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President-elect Park Geun-hye`s 1st task? National unity.

President-elect Park Geun-hye`s 1st task? National unity.

Posted December. 20, 2012 06:56,   


The presidential election of this year can be considered an unprecedented battle over political hegemony not only between conservatives and progressives but also between the younger and older generations.

No previous presidential election had seen such a fierce confrontation between the generations. The 18th presidential election will thus go down in the history books as one in which chronic regionalism has been replaced by generational conflict as a major independent factor.

President-elect Park Geun-hye clearly must put priority on achieving national unity by embracing the sense of loss felt by the 49 percent of the people who did not vote for her. As the country`s first presidential candidate to win with more than half of the vote, she should not become a leader for just 50 percent of the population.

The Korean people know that her slogan of “100-percent happiness” and “100-percent national integration” is hard-to-believe election propaganda. Nevertheless, a victor’s repeated efforts to achieve unity with the opposition can give a sense of consolation to progressive and young voters who stood against her.

Precedents clearly show that a president cannot run the country with a winner-take-all attitude. Though Park pledged to embrace opposition figures in her administration, people from the opposite side are unlikely to readily accept her offers given the risk of being branded a turncoat under the single, five-year term. She should know that allocating a few high posts to the opposition will not achieve national unity.

The people also know that her promise to make 70 percent of the population middle class will not be easy. They know well that the economic situation is nearly as bad as it was in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. With the Korean economy likely to continue the 3-percent level of low growth for the next five years, some experts say the next president will likely become the most unfortunate head of state in the country`s history.

President-elect Park has won over voters with the image of a trustworthy politician. Keeping promises to the people is an important virtue of a leader, but she needs to review her populist pledges made over the campaign period.

Catching the two rabbits of economic democratization and economic growth requires strong will from a leader. The new president should commit herself to drawing concessions from both business and labor so that the two economic actors spread their "win-win wings."

Throughout the campaign period, the conservative camp went back and forth between heaven and hell. Despite their narrow win in the election, conservatives should not pop champagne bottles yet, as it was Park who defended the conservatives from the progressive offensive. For the so-called old conservatives who are considered lazy in reforming themselves, a rosy future is no longer guaranteed. This is why the ruling Saenuri Party should push ahead with a variety of political reform pledges that Park made in her campaign, including limiting the downsizing of parliament. Reforming state power organs such as the prosecution should be quickly implemented in the first half of her term. Park also needs to positively consider a proposed constitutional revision that would include the decentralization of power.

Voices in the political community are also warning of potential influence peddling and corruption by her close aides. The moment that any aide abuses power or gets implicated in corruption cases, Park could lose her influence early in her term. As the incumbent administration has made the same mistake, without having to go far back, Park should learn from the lessons left by her predecessors.

The record 30 million people who voted for the 18th election has created two giant waves that sought different values and goals. It is the public’s will and the new president’s challenge to unite the two waves into national energy and create growth engines for the next couple of decades.

Park, who will greet her first dawn as the president-elect Thursday, will likely get lost in thought while looking at herself in the mirror. Perhaps she might feel emotional about her parents, who were both assassinated, or take a deep breath given the huge responsibility on her shoulders.

Two months from now, Park will return to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae in 33 years, not as the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee but the country’s 18th president who is responsible for the future of the nation. She will hopefully never forget for a single moment her pledge to take care of the people’s livelihood “with the heart of a mother.”