04/15/2008, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA

The "bulldozer" Lee Myung-bak starts to roll

by Pino Cazzaniga
The first moves of the president, reinforced by the political elections, confirm his reputation as a practical man. The controlled but firm reaction to the attacks of Pyongyang and the expectation of economic reforms.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The new president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, has demonstrated once again that he is what the people have long called a "bulldozer":   he pursues practical objectives, with decisiveness.

The fact that he waited more than a month and half (since February 25) before holding his first press conference (on April 13) confirms his political stature.  During this period, there were two series of events that immediately put him to the test: the hysterical and shameless propaganda issued against him by the leaders of North Korea, and the controversial parliamentary elections of South Korea, won by his Grand National Party (GNP). 

There were no rhetorical expressions in his remarks: he responded to the insults of Pyongyang by renewing his offer of openness and cooperation, but according to principles, meaning reciprocity; in his reaction, the "political charlatan" and "mindless traitor", as he was described in an editorial in the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the northern regime, demonstrated that he is an intelligent man who will not allow himself to be intimidated.

On the results of the elections, he did not give in to expressions of self-satisfaction, even if the numbers may have given him the right.  In 2004, the United Democratic Party (UDP, called the URI at the time) had won with 141 seats, while the GNP had obtained only 128; but on April 9, the GNP obtained 153 seats, while the UDP sank to 81: a swing of 40%.  Because there are 299 seats in the national assembly, the result of these elections also give Lee control of the parliament.

And nonetheless two figures throw a shadow on the results of these elections: the 46% rate of voter absenteeism, and the secession of 58 members of the GNP, faithful to Ms Park Gen-hye, the former president of the party.  The lack of precise political programmes and the fighting over the nomination of candidates were the causes of the voter absenteeism, the decline of the progressive party, and the secession in the conservative party.  Analysts observe that a democracy is mature if there is an opposition party that counterbalances the majority.  "Just as a bird flies with two wings, a democracy needs a healthy opposition party", writes the editorialist for the newspaper Joong Ang.  From this point of view, the people of South Korea have marked a step in their journey toward democratic maturity.

The editorialist for The Korea Times, bringing into focus the margin between the institutional consensus, expressed by the number of votes, and the real consensus, highlighted by the absenteeism and divisions, observes that "Korea will be governed by a party, the GNP, that is supported by only 25% of the voters".  And nonetheless the distrust has been aimed at the parties, and not at the president.  Most of the analysts agree in maintaining that Lee has emerged stronger from these elections.  Just as in the presidential election last December, in which he was elected by an overwhelming majority, so also now the positive votes and even the absenteeism itself clearly indicate that the Korean people have voted for stability.

In his first interview, Lee demonstrated that the trust in him is well placed.  He said: "In these elections, the people have told us that we must stop looking  at the left and the right, and instead focus our efforts on reinvigorating the economy and improving living conditions for the people through the politics of compromise and integration".  It is a call to "political pragmatism", which is his principle.

The intelligent "bulldozer" is moving with decisiveness, on the terrain where it is possible to build.  It is in this perspective that the expression "politics of compromise" must be interpreted.  For example, he will not proceed with construction of a canal that would connect the capital to the extreme south, by relying only on the parliamentary majority.  He will take into account the opinion of the people, probably by holding a referendum.  Moreover, he has already reduced from 7% to 6% the target for GDP growth, because of the current state of the world economy.

He was severe toward the political parties, especially those on the right.  "In order to survive the radical changes in global competition, we must be the to first change, and the changes must begin from the top.  I, as president, will be the first to change", he said.

He will apply "pragmatic politics" also in diplomacy, beginning immediately.  Today he departs for a visit to the United States, and at his return he will stop in Japan.  "I assure you that my trips abroad will not be simply ceremonial", he said.  "I will seek instead to produce substantial results".

On inter-Korean relations, Lee spoke of a period of readjustment, meaning a revision of the policies of the "splendid sun" pursued during the decade of the progressive administrations.  "The government", he said, "will respond to the recent provocations on the part of the North in a dignified manner.  The North must change also".  Lee exhorted Pyongyang to put an end to provocative threats, to come sincerely to the table of dialogue, and to realise the changes necessary to adapt itself to the new international order.  "The government (of Seoul)", he added, "is more than ready for dialogue, if this serves to resolve the nuclear problem and to lead to substantial aid for the people of North Korea".

Printable version
CLOSE X
See also
Tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang rise as Cold War fears cast a shadow over Korea
12/02/2016 15:14
Lee Myung-bak okays Obama-Kim Jong-il summit
11/11/2008
Seoul: new prime minister named
29/01/2008
North Koreans to launch rocket probably tomorrow
03/04/2009
Torch in North Korea for the first time
28/04/2008