Time to Stop Candlelight Vigils
Lee needs to focus on reading people's minds
Though the candlelit vigils that have swept the country for the past several weeks ended temporarily, there is a high possibility similar protests will grip the nation again depending on the situation regarding the nation's beef import deal with the United States. As some local media put it, what worries us most is the fact that the organizers of the protest rallies in downtown Seoul are attempting to exploit them for 'mpure'purposes.
Most notably, the trade unions are turning the rallies into a tool for political struggle in bids to force through their much-touted demands. Employees at state-run companies have begun raising their voices calling for the canceling of the government's plan to privatize the firms. This is totally inappropriate given the reform of the state-owned companies has been the top priority of the current government's reform agenda. The companies have been the target of public criticism with the lax management and moral hazard practices despite long-lasting and huge deficits.
It's comforting that the biggest anti-government street protest in 21 years ended without the use of violence by either side on June 10. But it is too early to feel relieved, as the rally's organizers appear set to keep the candle lit until President Lee Myung-bak hangs out a flag of surrender, which he has already done in part. However, what if his 'self-renovation'falls short of the public's expectations's It's time to think how to unsnarl the post-vigil situation.
Nobody thinks the 42-day-long candlelit protests were only about the mad cow scare, but "renegotiating"the beef import deal still holds the key to resolving this social and political turmoil. The problem is, Washington has repeatedly ruled out any possibility for revisiting what it thinks is a "wonderfully negotiated accord."Will indefinite protests by Koreans change U.S. officials'minds's Even if Washington makes the extremely unlikely decision to change the agreement, will Korea gain more than it loses or will the event go down as a historic victory?
If and when the two trade partners agree to do so, they may be able to bend international trade rules temporarily. But the country that first asks to do this will have to pay the price, not only bilaterally but also multilaterally for a very long time. There must be multiple ways to guarantee the safety of imported beef through additional talks, whether they call it renegotiation or not. What matters is not the phrasing but the content.
Most commentators here praise the candlelit protests as a victory of direct democracy, enabling the people to attain what representative democracy has failed to provide. It may be so, or it may not be so, as it seems a little too early to judge. What is certain, however, is the nation has yet to practice representative democracy true to its name, as most major political changes seem to have been made by popular revolts. Should this be a source of pride or something to seriously reflect on at a national level?
Alongside the candlelit protests, there were prayer meetings held mostly by conservatives. It is rather sad to watch a small gathering initiated by young students over food safety turn into another ideological showdown. This should be neither about pro- or anti-Americanism nor another eruption of decades-old grudges between rightists and leftists, groups that do not even exist in this country, as Westerners understand the terms. This is about whether or not Korea can practice true democracy -- representative democracy.
President Lee of course has none other than himself to blame for this fiasco, ranging from his excessive reliance on nepotism and cronyism as well as his neglect of just, democratic procedures in the hasty pursuit of results. It's time, however, to sit down and watch how the President tries to change himself and his surroundings. Unless a president commits national treason or grave corruption, people power cannot oust the leader they elected less than four months ago.
It's President Lee who should make people go back to their normal lives. But the people also need to calmly reflect over how long this country should keep attaining major changes through street politics.
Lee should have tried to ask the people about the beef trade deal in the first place and now he also needs to read the minds of the people. A series of protests are planned in the coming days. Now we need to calmly reflect our situation, pondering where we are heading. The stalled free trade agreement between Seoul and Washington needs to be ratified as soon as possible and should not be ruptured under any circumstances, as it is an essential tool for the nation's future prosperity. nw
President Lee Myung-bak presides over his presidential aides and cabinet members'meeting at Chong Wa Dae.