Posted by: rbbadger | August 17, 2008

President’s speech

The day before yesterday, the President made a speech outlining plans for the future.  We shall see if he is able to accomplish any of it, given the fact that his ratings have fallen very low and his power has been significantly weakened by the protests.

When he first took office, I was impressed with the man.  He seemed to have a good vision for the country, though I wasn’t sure about his grand Korean canal project.  I was especially impressed by the case involving a kidnapper in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.  The people criticised the police for not being quick enough to apprehend the perpetrator.  Indeed, the president himself made a surprise visit to the police station and gave the police chief and the police there a tongue lashing that they won’t soon forget.  The kidnapper was very quickly apprehended.

But, then we came to the beef protests.  These protests, originally designed to criticise the importation of American beef, soon showed their true colours, namely as anti-Lee Myeong-bak protests.  For over a month, the protests continued and many illegal actions were committed, involving damaging the offices of newspapers and vandalising (and in some cases, destroying) state property.  The government was very ineffectual in dealing with these protests, given that the leadership of the opposition party was playing a very prominent and vocal role.  They should have moved in sooner than they did, rather than letting this play out for well over a month every night.  The ineffective response of the government has significantly weakened the president’s authority and even his supporters have been disappointed.

Thankfully, the government has finally clamped down on the protests.  I was in the area of where the protests occured yesterday and the police were out in full force in broad daylight (along with a large number of police buses to take the guilty into custody).  Indeed, there were about seven of them in front of the hideously ugly US Embassy.  (Why does our government build such ugly buildings?  They waste so much money anyway.  If it is any consolation, the Polish embassy is much more hideous.) 

Korean presidents have a significant handicap that their US counterparts don’t have.  They are limited to a single, five-year term.  This is mostly to prevent scenarios like the Park Chung-hee years where Park remained in office from 1961 until his assassination in 1979.  Thus, they become lame ducks quite quickly.  Roh Moo-hyun, the former president, sought to amend the constitution to make the possibility of two four year terms for the presidency a reality.  But his approval ratings were so low (lower than even Bush’s at the time) that he was unable to get much done on this. 

Hopefully, the Lee Administration will be able to regain some of its lost authority and not just be a lame duck administration for the next four years.  He has outlined some interesting plans, especially with alternative energy.  But we shall see if he has the political wherewithal to do any of them.

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