Handling power just any old way leads to disaster
Koreans know an administration’s end is near when the prosecution starts to call in some of the President’s men. Corruption around the core of power is not the exception but the norm in this country. Still this particular administration has gone too far, way too far.
Among those who helped to make the presidency of Lee Myung-bak, few if any remain unscathed. Out of his top three ``mentors,” two ― the President’s elder brother and the former National Assembly speaker ― have already made disgraceful exits from politics amid influence-peddling scandals. The prosecution has just requested an arrest warrant for the third, Lee’s former media czar, on similar charges.
One might well have lost track of lower-echelon aides and secretaries who have quit their posts or are now in prison because of money-for-favor irregularities. None of those who started work at Cheong Wa Dae with Lee are still there with most of them leaving it for less than justifiable, let alone honorable, reasons.
When Korean voters elected Lee, an ex-convict who was deprived of his parliamentary job for violating election laws, as their leader four-and-a-half years ago amid the derision of foreigners, they should have been prepared for ― or at least expected ― this. They just thought the CEO-turned-President would make the nation and people richer, but later found he was good only at enriching those around him and his former colleagues ― large family-controlled conglomerates.
Even more astonishing than the rampant corruption itself was Lee’s lack of sensitivity to and self-reflection on it. It was less than a year ago the President described his administration as ``morally perfect.”
He did apologize. But Lee’s words at the New Year’s press conference were so reluctant and cursory that few Koreans found genuine repentance in them. Except for that brief moment, he talked about numerous bribery cases and other irregularities occurring right next to him as if they were stories of some faraway countries. So much so the local media have come to suspect Lee might sometimes have ``out-of-body experiences.” The sad conclusion after watching all this is the President has little ability of self-examination.
Have the law enforcement authorities finally turned their back on the lame-duck President to point their prosecutorial sword at him, then?
That does not seem to be the case, so far at least. We suspect the ongoing series of investigations and punishments are like lizards losing their own tails to protect their bodies, damage control to keep the ripples from reaching the top and minimize sentences for those involved while Lee is still in office. Suspicious signs are everywhere. Some, including the disgraced media king, are making thinly-veiled threats Lee should protect them. The prosecution has yet to resume probes into the President’s big brother, while replacing summons with written queries for Lee’s son.
President Lee and those around him might think they can get away with all this if only Rep. Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party succeeds him. Without clearing away the present mess in ways people can accept, however, the governing party will hardly be able to stay in power, something Park already knew when her party succeeded in the parliamentary polls by distancing herself from Lee. A breakaway from the President means not only different policies but different approaches to corruption, including acts already committed. If power changes hands, awaiting Lee will be a series of parliamentary hearings.
So it should be apparent to Lee of what is real damage control. He must come forth and confess and self-reflect from the bottom of his heart. And he should withdraw all the wrong moves and policies, which set both the nation’s democracy and economic justice back decades.
Then Lee and his administration will have made at least one priceless contribution to the country ― awakening Koreans to finally realize they can no longer let their society, leadership and themselves continue as they are.