Zoom in Gazette

Lee Government and Public Opinion

Three months after the presidential inauguration, several polls showed that the support rates of President Lee Myung Bak were less than 30%. Given the landslide victory in the presidential election, the low support rate for Lee is rather shocking. Citizens who had voted for Lee in the presidential election started complaining about his policy stances and attitude.

In particular, Korean people and the mass media are seized with panic about mad cow disease. Lee was criticized for giving away quarantine sovereignty to the US and endangering public life. Lee seems to be loosing trust from the general public. Candlelight rallies were not stoppable.

At this critical juncture in time, we need to understand politics and public opinion. First, Lee is an amateur in politics. Even though he was a lawmaker, he did not know how to deal with potentially sensitive matters. Public opinion is alpha and omega for politicians. In a representative democracy, politicians should be responsive to public opinion. He failed to communicate with the general public, colleagues, and opponents.

Second, he was an amateur in diplomacy. A president is the highest ranked diplomat in a country. Preoccupied with the FTA deal, he made a serious mistake in the beef deal. No Korean understood what we got from the beef deal. He should leave his businessman legacy to the past. It is politics, not a business!

Third, politicians might not prioritize national interests. Their primary concerns are maximizing the chances of winning an election. They, no matter what their political views are, did not tell the truth about mad cow disease. For instance, opposition parties regarded this panic as a chance to grab popularity back.

Fourth, symbolic power of the agenda prevailed in Korean politics. The mad cow disease issue symbolizes the Korean mentality of nationalism, anti-Americanism, anti-FTA, anti-Lee, and anti-chaebol. Even though it might not be a mainstream of Korean emotion, it represents, at least, some of the population very well. We cannot deny that the mad cow disease was not an issue just of public health.

I do not think Lee was a president for the majority in the first place. He was a minority president without loyal followers. People like his political slogan of "economic growth" but don't like specific policies. Once he started his policy, he found that only a few people stand behind him.

By Kim Jin-ha
Associate Dean, Keimyung International College(KIC)