President Lee Myung-bak passes the halfway point of his five-year term Wednesday. Now is the time for him to recall why the people elected him two years ago and make a new start. His most important task is to solidify the basis of the nation and economy. It goes without saying national security and economic growth are the two key responsibilities of a head of state. President Lees policies for the less affluent and to create a fair society will only make sense when backed by national security and economic growth.
President Lee showed strong leadership in putting the economy back on a solid growth track after the global recession in 2008. He helped Koreas economic growth bounce back to exceed the world average after it dropped under the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration. Based on law and principles, he strictly responded to illegal strikes by unions at Ssangyong Motor and Korea Railroad. He also played a proactive diplomatic role and improved relations with Japan and made Seoul the host city of the Group of 20 summit.
The governments opportunism and self-preservation attitude in handling resumption of U.S. beef imports in 2008, however, led to prolonged illegal acts and violence. As seen in the unauthorized trip to North Korea by the Rev. Han Sang-ryol, a standing adviser to the (South) Korea Alliance of Progressive Movements, certain leftist extremists in South Korea are still operating with near impunity. As a country confronting the hostile Kim Jong Il government, South Korea should never handle national security moderately under the guise of centrist pragmatism and social integration.
The Norths nuclear weapon development and its sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan show how important security on the Korean Peninsula is. President Lee should carry out what he promised to the public in his May 24 speech to prevent Kim from committing a provocation.
Another task is to deregulation. One of the most crucial tasks is to revive the middle class, which has steadily declined over the past 10 years, and to increase jobs. Yet the president should be careful to prevent policy support for the less affluent from leading to reckless populism. Still another task is to build an economic safety net such as improving fiscal soundness and increasing foreign exchange reserves.
President Lee should avoid authoritarian corruption and nomination of government officials he favors who could accelerate the lame duck phenomenon. Nomination rights should be handed over to the prime minister. President Lee should not forget his original resolution since the success and failure of his government directly affects the nations future.