Where’s the presidential leadership? Chung Un-chan The author, a former prime minister and former president of Seoul National University, is the chairman of the Korea Institute for Shared Growth. Korea has advanced to the ranks of the top 10 largest economies on the surface, but internally, slow-motion growth has become a new normal and social and economic inequalities are deepening. K-pop and K-culture dazzling the world cannot comfort starving children and poor elderly trying to survive day by day. Disheartening affairs are growing at home while international developments are turning increasingly worrisome. The pulsating anxiety stems from the brewing crisis within our community. From the fundamental household to the nation and global community, small and big social elements are suffering a crisis of varying aspects. The communalism and values that helped unite community members are weakening, and the sense of close bonding is diminishing. The lowest birth rate and highest suicide rate among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is chronically sickening Korean society. We fear that families and provincial areas could disappear, and the country could eventually disappear off the map if the trend is not reversed quickly. Outside, the protracted Russia-Ukraine and the escalating Israel-Hamas wars are raising the possibility of a World War III, as tech billionaire Elon Musk has warned. The neo-Cold War front panning out between the free democratic societies based on capitalism and the totalitarian regimes based on communism poses new challenges for the global community. Sadly, we see no sight of statesmen with leadership, experience and vision to iron out the different interests of community members and bring harmony at home or abroad. Political parties no longer play the role of breeding desirable politicians. As a result, controversial and scandal-ridden politicians still dominate the political stage. President Yoon Suk Yeol presides over a Cabinet meeting at the presidential office in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on Tuesday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS] The sudden proposal to merge Gimpo on the outskirts of Seoul into the capital despite the sprawling inefficiencies from the breakup of the administrative capital into Seoul and Sejong at the cost of severe national division perfectly underscores the senselessness of Korean politicians. Does the governing People Power Party really think it can attract votes with the Gimpo idea in the upcoming election just as the rivaling party candidate Roh Moo-hyun did with the platform to create the Sejong administrative capital in the 2002 presidential election? A family can be at risk if the man of the house is impotent, and the same goes for a company if its chief executive is inept. A country can shake if the head of state loses confidence. President Yoon Suk Yeol now sees his approval rating go lower than the votes he got to win the presidency, which shows his standing in the public eye. He must look back on why he had decided to join politics after fighting against the suppression from the sitting power. Did he come this far only to join the mud fight? Is he managing state affairs properly? Is he sufficiently communicating with the people? If he cooly reflects on himself and the past 18 months in office, he may find an answer. Although his stoic comment that he does not mind the poll results is understandable, it could sound as irresponsible as a CEO saying he did not care about the stock prices of the company. His blind faith that the people are always right can also push him towards populism. The president must live up to the expectations of the voters who believed in his campaign motto to restore fairness and common sense. He must deliver policies to give hope to the people who wished to see state management different from his predecessor, Moon Jae-in. Korea faces the toughest challenge in the global economic war that could bring about a lengthy slump coupled with security risks. The rivaling parties both chant the importance of public livelihood, but politics cannot drive the economy heavily vulnerable to external affairs. Only the political leadership that can unite the people through persuasion and empathy and harmonize with the opposition through compromise can help the country survive the crisis. Abraham Lincoln, who had transformed the Civil War into the American Revolution to rebuild the country on unity, recruited political adversaries to his Cabinet. We need that kind of self-confident and broad-sighted appointments to upgrade the governance and restore the Korean community. If Yoon fills the Cabinet seats to be emptied by those who want to run in the parliamentary election with fresh faces and capable experts without connections to the president, there is hope for new politics. The late professor emeritus at Yonsei University, Yoon Ki-joong, who was revered by economists, said he named his son Suk Yeol, with the Chinese character “Yeol” meaning “joy,” taken from the Confucius quote that when people are happy with politics, people of other nations will come. When a nation is well-managed, livelihood will be stabilized too. The president must be humble to realize his promise to restore fairness and common sense in our society and provide joy to the people. Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

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