According to a recent newspaper opinion poll, 44.7 percent of the respondents approved of President Lee Myung-bak’s performance in the past three years of his presidency. On the other hand, the rate of disapproval stood at 51.4 percent.
Responses to another poll, this one commissioned by a business daily, were far less favorable. More than 54 percent of the respondents said they were worse off now than three years ago. Less than 15 percent said they were better off, with the remainder finding little change in the quality of their lives.
Lee may have grievances about the findings ― especially since he is due credit for pulling the nation’s economy out of the Great Recession and putting it back on track in a short period of time. Nonetheless, he may find some solace in comparisons with his predecessors, who had lower approval ratings as they were entering the fourth year of their five-year presidencies. The ratings for his two immediate predecessors were only just above 20 percent.
Indeed, his scorecard shows an outstanding performance in the economic sector. Under his leadership last year, the nation achieved a year-on-year growth rate of 6.1 percent, an eight-year high, and exported as much as $466.4 billion worth of goods. One blemish was youth unemployment. Those out of jobs among the 15-to-29 age group were at 920,000, the largest since 2000.
His performance in the political sector, however, was dismal, according to one survey of experts and politicians. His ability to connect on political issues scored 1.77 on a 1-to-5 scale, with 5 indicating “very well” and 1 indicating “very poor.”
Of greater concern to the public now is how he will perform during the next two years. To his chagrin, he can hardly be expected to perform any better than before, if previous presidencies are any guide. The fault must be found not in his leadership capacity but the constitutional ban on the incumbent president’s pursuit of another term.
The jinx starts to raise its ugly head in the fourth year. As his predecessors did, Lee will undoubtedly find his power rapidly slipping though his fingers as he nears the end of his term in office. He will have to regard himself lucky if he avoids being pressured to leave his party, as his predecessors were when they were regarded more as liabilities than assets.
Lee will do well to face up to this cold reality and set his political agenda accordingly. Simply put, he needs to focus the projects that he has launched and has yet to complete, instead of launching new ones, such as his proposal for constitutional amendment. He also needs to prioritize the issues that he cannot afford to take too much time in addressing.
Indeed, Lee has so many tasks he will soon have to grapple with. They include a decision on where to build a proposed new science belt and another decision on whether to build a new airport or expand an existing one in the southeast.
They are issues of escalating conflict among different regions competing against one another to play host to the science belt and the airport. Decisions made in one way or another will have political consequences. Even so, they cannot be avoided.
Even more urgent is a task of putting rising inflationary pressure and the cost of rent under control. Lee also needs to address the problem of ground and tap water being contaminated by the cattle and pigs that were culled and buried because they were either actually or presumably afflicted by foot-and-mouth disease.
He has his hands full.