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The Five Years AheadYonseians’ opinions and expectations on Korea’s new government
Sim Ha-kyung  |
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승인 2008.03.22  00:08:36
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Editor's Note

On Feb. 25, 2008, Korean government set on sail with its new captain, MB. Will his inauguration bring us a brighter future? MayBe. But before making any hasty predictions, why don’t we first listen to what others have to say?

By Kim Da-eun, Editor of Research Div.

KOREA’S 17TH President was elected on Dec. 19, 2007 and inaugurated on Feb. 25, 2008. Only a month has passed since the presidential inauguration, and we still have five whole years of President Lee Myung-bak’s leadership to go. This is a time where people have high hopes for improvement and positive changes for the country. The Yonsei Annals took this time and opportunity to ask 1,014 Yonseians for their opinions, comments and concerns.

All eyes on President Lee
The election held in December 2007 was the first presidential election to allow young and fresh minds to vote. Previously, this privilege was only reserved for adults over 21. However, the legal voting age in Korea was reduced to 19 last year, so 19-year-olds who were born before Dec. 19, 1988 were able to cast their votes. A vast majority of Yonseians, 71.54% overall, participated in this election, but 21.94% did not, although they had acquired their right to vote. “University students should realize that their political interests and insight can bring meaningful changes to what has been considered untouchable,” says Choi Jin (Chief, Institute of Presidential Leadership).
   Of those surveyed by the Annals who took part in the election, 33.42% voted for Lee. The reasons ranged from “not satisfied with any of the candidates and Lee was the better choice” (26.98%), “good impression from Lee” (23.81%) to “hopes to change political parties” (15.08%). In the 17th presidential election, less than 50% of young adults in their 20s exercised their right to vote, and their support rate for Lee was the lowest compared to other age groups. It appears that Yonseians’ opinions resemble the general tendency of their peers.
   When asked whether they are satisfied with the election results, 27.35% replied positively, yet 69.17% replied negatively. Those dissatisfied are mainly concerned with public pledges and promised policies of Lee (43.86%), as well as suspicions of corruption (34.78%). From these responses, it is shown that many Yonseians are primarily concerned with national policies and the administrative abilities of a president.

Presidential leadership
In an era where leadership is valued as an essential quality in a person, today’s individuals strive to acquire effective leadership skills. Thus, leadership is a familiar concept to many. Yet, among many different types of leadership, presidential leadership is special in many ways. The characteristics of presidential leadership that are valued by Yonseians from most to least are administrative abilities (40.45%), vision for the future of our nation (31.95%), consideration for citizens (14.74%), and morality (11.18%). Many people have been displeased with the outcome and leadership of former Presidents. Therefore, it can be assumed that the most valued quality for today’s President is his ability to manage national affairs. Choi says, “There is no real answer to what should be the most important quality, because values change over time.”
   Due to past disappointment, presidential leadership is anticipated by many ? “type of leadership” is the area where Yonseians want to see the most improvement in (48.71%), followed by “speech and behavior as President” (21.83%). Yang Seung-ham (Dean of Col. of Social Science, Yonsei Univ.) says, “Former President Roh’s leadership was outstanding in morality, though he was viewed incompetent in administrative abilities.” On the other hand, President Lee’s leadership is considered to be “CEO leadership.”
   In short term, Lee’s leadership looks promising, with its ability to achieve high performance in a straightforward way. However, it should for long-term progress in other characteristics such as tolerance and understanding of people. A corporate itself is centralized and homogeneous in aims and goals. A nation, on another hand, cannot help but be diverse and heterogeneous. With this fundamental distinction, leadership differs accordingly. Yang says, “A CEO tends to concentrate on aims and goals only, but a President must demonstrate tolerant and persuasive leadership that openly includes all of the population.” Lee could accomplish this by soliciting many opinions and views, and considering diverse perspectives on one issue, as many Yonseians suggest. Yang says, “Good political performance is when people who initially did not support the politician eventually acknowledge him or her.” In five years, the 69.17% of Yonseians who are dissatisfied with the election of President Lee and the 3.47% who are not even interested will hopefully “acknowledge” him.

Public pledges and new policies
After ten years of Democratic government, this new government promises drastic changes in many areas of national affairs. Lee emphasizes pragmatism in all of his administration, and it was shown in his idea of the “small government.” Many other policies in areas such as economy, international relations, and education are under radical reformation, and some of them have raised controversy on whether they are viable or not.
   Among the presidential pledges, the most popular were “Korea 747 (7% economic growth rate, national per capita income $ 40,000, seventh strongest economy)” and guarantee of common people’s housing rights. On the other hand, the least popular were construction of the Korean Waterway, which will be a great canal that will cross the entire Korean peninsula, and the education policies which include immersed English education and expansion of high schools. Since these three presidential pledges are the most discussed among the people both on and off campus, close inspection of each item is necessary.

The Korean Waterway: water of life or death?

    The plan of the Korean Waterway

One of President Lee’s main pledges is the construction of the Korean Waterway. If constructed, it will slash the Korean peninsula internally, and artificially connect the rivers and streams to create a grand canal. Although its benefits are emphasized by Lee and his specialists, its construction is still a controversial issue.
   The benefits are innumerable, starting from increased efficiency in transportation, development of internal land, to more openings of jobs and expansion of leisure and tourism. Park Seok-soon (Prof., Dept. of Environmental Science & Engineering, Ewha Womans Univ., Environmental Advisor for the Korean Waterway) says, “The Korean Waterway was planned with foresight. Its efficiency is aimed at a few years from now, which is the time that we will reach national per capita income of $40,000 ~ $50,000. Many people will value leisure, and maybe even have personal yachts.”
   Yet, Yonseians doubt the claimed benefits of the waterway. In their messages to President Lee, many requested him to “think twice before putting it into action,” and there was even a threat to “emigrate if the waterway is constructed.” 76.44% are against the construction, and the two main reasons are “it is economically inefficient” (40.41%) and “it is harmful to nature” (26.85%). Civil environmental organizations such as KFEM (Korea Federation for Environmental Movement) and Green Korea strongly argue that rare species near extinction might be killed during the construction, and the water quality will also be decreased. However, Yonseians appear to be more worried about the economic efficiency and possibly less aware of environmental consequences. In addition, some claim that the waterway will open many jobs. Yet, Kim Tae-il (Prof., Dept. of Public Administration, Korea Univ.) says “The jobs created by the Korean Waterway construction will not be the kind of jobs that university graduates will want in their future.”

Enterprise policies
During the presidential campaigns, Lee named himself the “President of Economy,” emphasizing pragmatism from his past experience as a CEO and the mayor of Seoul from 2002 to 2006. And to nobody’s surprise, Lee has particularly strong economic plans for the country. His enterprise policies are ground-breaking, with many cancellations of restrictions that bound enterprises from freely expanding.
   According to Lee’s plans, mutual investment of enterprises will be legally allowed, which means they will be able to invest in their own subsidiary companies and possibly centralize their economic strength. Yang says, “Yonseians and other university students cannot help but be worried about the economy, because it is directly related to their future. They see their seniors wandering in libraries after graduating.” Supporting his theory, an overwhelming 51.49% want the new government to concentrate on developing the “market and economy.” Therefore it is not surprising that 5.17% fully support and 47.42% mostly support Lee’s enterprise policies. Of those 52.59%, a vast 63.93% hope for active enterprise investments through which Korea’s economy will grow. According to MBnomics, a book published by Maeil Business Newspaper on President Lee’s economic doctrines, many economists have optimistic views on Lee’s economic plans. They believe Lee’s aims on economic growth are not impossible at all, since he is experienced and knowledgeable in this area.
   Although the plans are supported by the logic of enterprise growth, some public criticism is inevitable ? they appear to “cut slack” for major enterprises, possibly promoting “corpocracy.”* In that sense, 37.98% of Yonseians are apprehensive about such revolutionary changes in Korean enterprise restrictions. Of the 37.98% who are unenthusiastic, 37.50% feel that Lee’s economic plans are concentrated on only large corporations, and 36.46% complain that there is not much economic benefit to common people. Those Yonseians urged Lee to “make sure all people are equally benefited.”
* Corpocracy: Corporate bureaucracy; domination of corporations.

Education policies
Korean education system and policies have long been a hot topic among the people, who questioned the efficiency and equality. In particular, many university students, who have just cut the finishing line of Korean public education, must have had high spirits for a positive reformation in the way that Korea brings up its youth. Yet, President Lee has faced another major obstacle in carrying out reformation in education. The most controversial part of Lee’s education plans were expansion of high schools targeted at the privileged, immersed English education, and liberalization of the university entrance process.
   As the Annals asked Yonseians’ views on the new plans on education policies, 31.38% are for and 61.07% are against them. The biggest reason behind the supporting party is “strengthening global competence of the young” (67.76%), while the discouraging party mainly claims “activation of private education” (41.17%) and “incompatibility with the reality of Korean education” (31.43%). Considering recent uproar of public refutation regarding reformation of English education, a high percentage of Yonseians against the education policies seems likely.

Social and political interests of university students
Yonseians and other university students in Korea undoubtedly have lawful rights to express their thoughts on Korean society and politics, since the next five years are critical for their establishment in society. The 17th President’s political measures would cast substantial influences on their lives as beginners in society, thus to whom they place their votes would have been a crucial choice.
   Although their voices are hardly heard, students are not entirely apathetic towards political matters. They do possess desires and ideas for themselves, but find it difficult or unnecessary to express them. In reference to this, Kim Seon-kyeong (Pres. of Daehak Heemang, ’03, Kyung Hee Univ.) says, “If university students and people in their 20s do not express their opinions in public, the politicians will not provide any policies or measures for our generation. They will target older generations who actively cast their votes.” Daehak Heemang is an organization by university students, encouraging fellow young adults to actively express their political opinions.
   Through their research, student activists of Daehak Heemang found that most university students wish for lower tuition fees. The Annals also found that 44.91% requested the government to establish laws or restrictions on increasing tuition fees. University tuition fees have been skyrocketing in the past few years, and students are expecting an amelioration of economic burden in near future. Other needs included “expansion of national scholarships” (20.87%), “government support programs for studying abroad (14.05%) and “decrease of government student loan interest” (10.39%). For university students, economic obstacles in education seem to be the most frustrating part in the policies of government ? their voices should not only be heard by the government, but prudently considered.
   Young adults in their 20s occupy 15.59% of the entire Korean population, according to the population statistics from Korea National Statistical Office. On the other hand, older people in their 50s make up 10.91%. It is ironic that most political decisions are made by those whose socioeconomic status are established, and that national administration is targeted at a relatively smaller portion of the population. The government should represent voices from all age groups of the country’s people, especially those of the young adults whose futures depend on how the current decisions are made.

*       *       *

   Yonseians’ overall view on President Lee’s policies is rather reluctant. 41.72% even expressed their dissatisfaction and lack of hope for the next five years. It is evident in how some government pledges and policies, especially the construction of the Korean Waterway and the reformation of English education, are strongly refuted. Through this survey, the Annals clearly understands that Yonseians do indeed have ideas and opinions for the President and his government ? yet, they have not spoken up.
   As proud citizens of Korea, it is their responsibility to express their opinions on society and the political policies, no matter how optimistic or spiteful they might be. Through exchange of opinions that transcends generations, societal growth and improvement can be achieved. Any society without critical questioning and an open attitude towards reasonable criticism cannot prosper. The Lee government is aiming to achieve revolutionary reformation in five years, and transfusion of young and fresh ideas can never be damaging. In their messages to President Lee, many Yonseians urged him to “listen to the people.” If people speak up, he will have to listen.


As my article was mainly on university students' views on the new government, I kept asking my peers their thoughts every chance I got. Most of the time, an apathetic answer was given. I must confess that I myself was not very interested in this issue until I started writing this article. Yet, as I paid attention and became aware of social affairs, I learned that apathy is not the appropriate expression of disappointment. They say apathy is worse than hatred, and that anti-fans are indeed fans after all. Let’s all be fans of our new President - pro or anti? You get to choose.


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It's imperative that more poplee make this exact point.
(2011-11-26 19:59:55)
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