The two words President Park Geun-hye has mentioned most frequently since she took office a year ago are “people” and “we.” She has used “people” 379 times and “we” 310 times in her speeches and other public remarks over the past year, according to Cheong Wa Dae officials.
The frequent use of the two words is quite natural for Park, who began her five-year presidency with pledges to build a “100 percent Korea” and bring happiness to all Korean citizens. Marking her first year in office today, however, the president hardly finds herself in a position to claim that she has successfully moved toward these goals.
Park is still under criticism for being “uncommunicative” with opposition parties and other detractors, adhering only to what she believes to be right. The economy remains sluggish, with the country’s stock market having slipped more than 3 percent since her inauguration.
Despite these negative aspects, her approval ratings have recently hovered around the mid-50 percent range, due mainly to her principled handling of North Korea and efforts to consolidate ties with major powers and boost business interests abroad.
In a poll of 1,200 voters conducted by Gallup Korea last week, 56 percent of respondents gave a positive assessment of Park’s performance. This approval rate, which is slightly higher than the voter support of 51.6 percent she won in the 2012 election, is the second-highest for any president at the end of the first year in office since the survey began in 1988. The late liberal President Kim Dae-jung scored highest with 60 percent.
Park’s approach toward North Korea and performance on the international diplomatic stage has served to shore up her voter support based on the conservative constituency. But she cannot afford to become complacent because of her approval ratings.
What may have to be taken more seriously are the results of a separate survey of intellectual experts, which was conducted earlier this month. Of the 250 professors and researchers polled, only 22 percent expressed a positive view of her job performance, while more than 60 percent assessed it negatively. This critical view revolves mainly around internal matters, with critics taking issue with what they see as her “old-fashioned way of thinking and outdated perception of situations.”
The president may not feel that she is to blame for frayed relations with the opposition and the prolonged deadlock in domestic politics. Entering the second year in office, however, she needs to ponder whether her adherence to principles has made her unnecessarily inflexible and whether her no-nonsense stance has eliminated room for compromise.
A reflective attitude is needed to open an era of happiness for all the people, as she has pledged, particularly by reinvigorating the economy. She can no longer rely on her performance on inter-Korean and external issues to prop up her approval ratings as people’s patience is getting thinner due to their economic hardships.
Park is certainly well aware that the economy holds the key to her success as president. In her New Year’s conference last month, she pledged to draw up and implement a three-year plan to boost the economy and enable the people to benefit from another economic leap forward during the remainder of her term. The plan is to be announced in an economic ministers’ meeting that she will preside over today in time for the first anniversary of her inauguration.
Securing cooperation with the opposition is essential for pushing her economic blueprint and other policy agenda, as the party holds enough parliamentary seats to block the passage of legislative measures under a law revised in 2012. Bipartisan cooperation is also needed to ensure the success of her efforts to lay the groundwork for the reunification of the two Koreas and enhance regional security.
Principled compromise through active communication with opposition lawmakers and other critics could open the way for achieving her campaign pledges, which were rightly made for the future of the nation.