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Don’t forget the next 4 years

May 10,2018
President Moon Jae-in celebrated his first year in office with much fanfare. He got positive reviews for restoring government dignity after a shameful exit by his predecessor. Polls show his approval ratings hovering above the unprecedented threshold of 80 percent. Former liberal President Kim Dae-jung ranks second in the first-year performance review, at 60 percent.

Moon’s popularity grew after he dramatically eased geopolitical risks and provided a breakthrough in the nuclear stalemate after a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He has also mended relationships with the four traditional powers — the United States, China, Japan and Russia. By category, approval in North Korean policy hit 83 percent and diplomacy 74 percent. Expectations have never been so high for a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Moon’s scoreboard on domestic affairs is pitiful compared with his performance on the external front. People’s lives have not improved, and many are negative about his economic policy. Positive opinions of economic performance peaked at 47 percent, lower than 54 percent in a poll on his 100th day in office. The unemployment rate is expected to turn from bad to worse. Real estate prices remain sky-high and fresh food prices have shot up despite better weather conditions. Exports have lost steam. The so-called income-led growth policy on the logic that increased jobs and income could stimulate the economy seems to have been proven wrong.

Moreover, domestic conditions are not expected to get better. The legislature has been bitterly divided for the last year. Both the left and right wing are at fault. The ruling party has been bull-dozing ahead while the opposition has been knee-jerkingly antagonistic. The ruling party should shoulder more blame as it should have worked harder to persuade the opposition as it cannot pass anything in the opposition-majority legislature. The governing party has scorned the opposition due to its involvement in the past ills that need to be done away with. Despite earlier promises of balanced appointments, the administration has been filled with progressive figures loyal to the president.

The second year is not just pivotal to the Moon Jae-in government, but to the future of Korea. The government desperately needs opposition support to push ahead with much-delayed reforms and open a new peaceful chapter on the Korean Peninsula. Snubbing the opposition and pretentious gestures cannot get legislation passed. Unfortunate traditions and practices need to be revamped. But disregard for the opposing political front, just because values and policies differ, won’t help in uniting the country and pushing ahead.

When the ruling party was the opposition, it fiercely attacked former President Park Geun-hye and her aides for their lack of communication and arrogant style. Moon vowed to pay heed to those who had not voted for him and become a president for all. Governments that grew big headed from all the praise for their first year invariably lost steam in the second year. The Moon administration must not go down the same ill-fated path.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 30