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Presidential Role Models Offer Insight

Posted June. 06, 2006 07:13,   


“Good leaders are judged by their morality, courage and determination. Above all, however, they should be judged by whether they led history forward or backward,” said President Roh Moo-hyun in a speech on leadership at Yonsei University in May 2004.

As this part of his speech shows, he thinks that good leaders are those who take history forward. He also set several leaders as his role models and sought to follow their footsteps whenever he was faced with difficulties.

That explains why he talked about Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on June 2, once again as he did in last October, after the ruling Uri Party had been heavily defeated in the local elections on May 31. He talked about different leaders at different times.

Abraham Lincoln-

Former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has been President Roh’s role model since he ran for president. He even published a book entitled, “Roh Moo-hyun meets Lincoln” at the end of 2001.

Roh and Lincoln have many things in common in their lives. Both presidents were born to a poor family and self-taught lawyers. The two were also elected president after a series of failures. In addition, both Roh and Lincoln are the 16th presidents of South Korea and the U.S. In the preface of his book, Roh wrote, “Abraham Lincoln avoided terms such as injustice or justice and victory or defeat. He regarded the South and North of the U.S. as one entity.” In other words, he viewed Lincoln’s leadership that led to the unity of Southern and Northern U.S. as the same as his under which he promised to break regional hostility in South Korea.

De Gaulle-

President Roh was absorbed by the book, “De Gaulle’s Leadership” when he was suspended from the presidency back in March, 2004 due to the opposition party’s impeachment trial against him. After he returned to office, he appointed Lee Ju-heum (the present ambassador to Myanmar), the author of the book, to the new post of Presidential Secretary of Leadership.

Charles De Gaulle, who was inaugurated as the president of France`s Fifth Republic in 1958 with the catchphrase, “Great France,” held referendums on issues such as the independence of Algeria and a change in the presidential election system to direct elections, thus staking his presidency. In short, he was a leader who took bold steps to persuade the public to resolve the nation’s critical issues.

Like him, President Roh sought to take an active step to solve issues by asking for a vote of confidence when one of his aides was involved in a scandal at the end of 2003. He also staked his presidency when he suggested a grand coalition of Uri Party and the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) to the GNP, ending up inviting harsh criticism from the public.

Koizumi and Schroeder-

President Roh mentioned these two leaders the most when he suggested a grand coalition to the GNP last year.

The two leaders have some things in common: they staked their posts on the Japanese Diet’s dissolution and general elections, respectively, when their political room for maneuver was limited. Likewise, Roh took a risk for a coalition with the GNP.

But an Uri Party insider says, “The bold moves taken by the Japanese and German leaders are possible only under the cabinet system. In that sense, President Roh’s decision to risk his presidency was too ideal in a country under the presidential system.”

Jeong Do-jeon-

Last year, the president talked much about Jeong Do-jeon, who greatly contributed to the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty, by helping King Taejo, the first king of the dynasty. President Roh said, “Jeong lost to Lee Bang-won, the third king of the Joseon Dynasty, in the power struggle. But he was the very person who succeeded the revolution, leading it to the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty that lasted for 500 years. So, what is important for a leader is not winning power but changing society’s institutions, culture, and ideology rightly.” That remark seems to be closely related to what he said in a meeting on June 2. At the meeting, he said that a country’s quality of institution, culture, thoughts and politics are deciding factors for its future.

Yeon-Wook Jung jyw11@donga.com