A Korean president has around 10 chances to deliver speeches at the National Assembly, including those to begin parliament, announce New Years messages, release budget plans, and give administrative policy speeches. Most, however, tend to avoid speaking to parliament instead of taking advantage of it. Park Chung-hee delivered seven speeches in 16 years and Chun Doo-hwan just five in seven years. They asked prime ministers to deliver their remaining speeches on behalf of them. Presidents preferred that prime ministers read speeches not only when authoritarianism emerged in Korea but also after democratization surfaced. Roh Tae-woo made only four speeches to parliament, Kim Young-sam three, Kim Dae-jung once, and Roh Moo-hyun four.
In 2002 when then President Kim Dae-jung was in the final year of his term, the administrative policy speech on the budget plan caused a real problem. National Assembly Speaker Park Gwan-yong had asked Kim to deliver the speech himself for three months, and the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae showed a positive response. Prime Minister Kim Sok-su instead of the president then appeared at the National Assembly on Oct. 7, 2002, Park declined to chair the plenary session of the National Assembly for an hour. Presidents have especially shown little interest in budget speeches. Until now, only three budget speeches have been made by presidents: one by Roh Tae-woo in 1988, the second by Roh Moo-hyun in 2003, and the last one by Lee Myung-bak last year.
This year, however, President Lee asked Prime Minister Chung Un-chan to read his budget speech. National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o asked the president to deliver a speech himself, saying, Since a budget speech means a blueprint on the governments tax plan, we need to make a tradition that the president makes a speech. The request was rejected, however. President Lee must have considered that only three budget speeches have been made by presidents and followed the custom that prime ministers read them on behalf of presidents. Nevertheless, President Lee made his 27th speech to the public via radio and Internet as planned. His choice does not look good.
Presidents can earn many things if they deliver speeches at the National Assembly. Most of all, they can get help from lawmakers when dealing with national affairs. Speeches to parliament also mean respect for the National Assembly and a sincere will to communicate with people. If they consider standing on the platform of the National Assembly as behavior beneath their dignity or worry about heckling from opposition party members, they must be too narrow-minded to serve as president. President Lee should create a custom to eradicate proxy reading by prime ministers.
Editorial Writer Lee Jin-nyong (firstname.lastname@example.org)