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[Editorial] Time for a Turnaround

Posted June. 16, 2009 07:02,   


President Lee Myung-bak yesterday gave a radio address immediately before flying to Washington for summit talks with U.S. President Barack Obama. President Lee mentioned the many challenges confronting Korean society including ideological and regional conflicts, corruption and scandals involving high-ranking public officials, and a political culture marked by intra-party strife. He pledged to tackle these problems after returning from his U.S. trip. “Nowadays, I am in deliberations over how to overcome these obstacles, thereby helping our nation take a new leap forward,” he said. “I came to the conclusion that such entrenched problems require thorough treatment rather than just dealing with the symptoms.”

Korean society is facing a grave crisis that demands drastic changes. The general public is still divided by regionalism, and ideological conflict has worsened in the aftermath of former President Roh Moo-hyun’s death. Unfortunately, politicians have long failed to achieve social cohesion by alleviating such conflicts. Rather, opposition parties have announced their intention to subvert the administration by joining forces with violent protesters, thereby neglecting their duties in the National Assembly.

Former President Kim Dae-jung went as far as condemning the Lee administration as a “dictatorship,” while making comments that were apparently intended to instigate a public uprising against the government. In the face of growing security fears due to North Korea’s military provocations and nuclear weapons development, South Korea’s entire future could soon hang in the balance.

The approval rating for the Lee administration has plunged to the 20-percent level again. Support for the ruling Grand National Party, which was previously much higher than that of the main opposition Democratic Party, has begun to drop below its rival. Yet the ruling party has done little to reverse this trend, weighed down by internal strife and failing to introduce decent reforms. Without tackling the falling support for the administration, it will be almost impossible to deal with national affairs, let alone find a breakthrough for the country’s future.

Many are guessing what proposals President Lee has to achieve a breakthrough. One potential scenario is a reconciliatory turnaround marked by a Cabinet reshuffle and the replacement of key presidential advisers as demanded by the ruling party. Another is a constitutional revision to divide authority and reform the administrative and electorate units. An official at the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae, however, says the administration is deliberating on one particular measure.

It is desirable for the administration to decisively act to help the country overcome its crisis while maintaining a large framework, as well as change what should be changed. In other words, a dramatic turnaround is needed in how national affairs are managed. President Lee has constantly emphasized that he will not push for a turnaround just for the sake of a turnaround, but he must remember that there are times when dramatic changes in state administration are needed. The nation expects him to come up with measures to “harmoniously patch together the cacophony of voices demanding change to forge a good opportunity for national progress and political development,” as he pledged in his radio address.