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[Editorial] President Lee in Hot Water

Posted May. 08, 2008 08:27,   


Regarding the recent controversy over mad cow disease, President Lee Myung-bak said on Wednesday, “If our decision to open the beef market threatens the public’s health, we’ll immediately stop importing American beef and come up with countermeasures. Finally recognizing the seriousness of the public’s opposition, Lee’s announcement suggests that the public’s health is a priority and that he would be prepared to accept a trade dispute with the United States over the issue.

But it’s not right to fuel a dispute over mad cow disease. Koreans have ignored scientific evidence and refused to communicate in a rational way. Even worse, young students are calling for the impeachment of the president. The nation’s recent anxiety has been exacerbated by those who have spread groundless and malicious facts as some political forces, whether or not directly involved in the misinformation, try to incapacitate the new government.

Nevertheless, the new government cannot and should not blame those who spread malicious rumors over mad cow disease or the former Roh Moo-hyun government for declining approval ratings. According to the Youido Institute run by the Grand National Party, the approval rating for President Lee, who won a landslide victory with a margin as wide as 5.31 million votes just five months ago, has fallen sharply to between 26 and 29 percent in just the 2.5 months since he took office. Lee should thoroughly analyze what is behind his rapidly declining approval rating.

Lots of experts believe that Lee’s failure in personnel management has been the critical factor. While organizing the government, Lee has been unable to strengthen the legitimacy of the new conservative government after a decade of being in the shadow. Lee’s appointments have disappointed and upset citizens who long sought change but seemed to get a new administration full of untrustworthy officials. Also, many Koreans argue that Lee has chosen several unqualified people just as former President Roh Moo-hyun had appointed inept associates to critical positions. Even worse, the GNP has also failed to nominate qualified candidates in the recent general election.

The public’s declining support due to the government’s poor personnel management has accelerated the spread of groundless rumors. Also, Lee made other mistakes. For one, he decided to resume U.S. beef imports just a day before the summit between the United States and Korea. He has also made some improper statements, which have run counter to public sentiment. The president should consider the recent developments as a crisis and come up with reform measures, including a reshuffling of personnel. It is also critical to restore his approval ratings so that the government can deal with organized resistance against sociopolitical changes resulting from a change in administration.