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[Op-Ed] Pres. Lee’s ‘Surprise’ Phone Calls

Posted August. 18, 2009 06:31,   


When Barack Obama was elected a Democratic senator, he received a congratulatory phone call from then President George W. Bush, a Republican. Obama was also invited to a White House luncheon with other senators afterwards. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama said he came to like Bush through those two occasions.

Since succeeding Bush in January, President Obama is keeping close contact with both ruling and opposition party lawmakers through phone calls. To gain approval for his administration’s economic stimulus bill worth 800 billion dollars after taking office, he called Republican lawmakers whenever possible to tell them about the bill and ask for their cooperation. Ex-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, also frequently called Republican lawmakers who exercised pressure as the majority party to convince them of the rationality behind his policies. As a result, the percentage of Republicans who supported the Clinton administration’s major bills often surpassed that of Democrats while he was president. The late Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi also doubled his approval rating by actively phoning a diversity of people in society.

President Lee Myung-bak since last month has been making surprise phone calls to ruling Grand National Party lawmakers. He has called not only those who helped him in his presidential campaign, but also members loyal to former party chief Park Geun-hye. He usually sends his regards or exchanges ideas on pending political issues over the phone. This action is welcome in that it can strengthen communication with the public. Even better would be to expand his calling list to include lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party.

President Lee’s plans to reform the national electoral system and reorganize administrative districts proposed in his Liberation Day speech can be implemented more effectively with public and political consensus. Democratic Party leader Chung Sye-kyun yesterday welcomed the proposed reforms, saying, “Our party has long emphasized the importance of tackling regionalism and we’ve come up with several measures such as adoption of a multi-member district system.” Chung, however, blasted the recent passage of media reform bills, saying he doubts the president’s intent behind the proposed reforms. This is where phone calls could prove useful. If President Lee and Chung talk several times over the phone, they could conceivably decide to hold heart-to-heart talks in person.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpark@donga.com)