WHO IS a president? He or she is the head of a republican
state. In Korea, several people have been in charge of president from the
first president, Rhee Syng-man since 1945, when a government was
established. However, nobody was a perfect president.
present president, Roh Mu-hyun, was elected at 2002 president election by
supporting of the twenties and thirties generation. Announcing and
carrying out the many kinds of policies, he does not have a good
In this month's "Cover Story", The Yonsei
Annals researched the
evaluation to the former presidents and present president's facing
problems of not only Yonseians but other five university students. This
column will give chances to think about the president and present
government to readers and other politicians.
By Son Min-kyung,
of Research Div.
/ Female 777/ Unidentified 14
653 / Sophomore 271 / Junior 241 / Senior
287 / Unidentified 44
311 / Korea 162 / Yonsei 236 / Ewha Womans 265 /
Chung-ang 290 / HanYang 219 Unidentified
THE FIRST president of Korea,
Rhee Syng-man was once called as "Founding Father of Korea." Before being
president of the Republic of Korea, he was acknowledged as such by Korean
people. However, once he became the president, he gave up the chance to be a
George Washington of Korea and chose the road of a dictator instead. Finally, he
was ousted from the presidency, and died abroad, in Hawaii. Since Rhee Syng-man
resigned, seven presidents have guided Korea through 40 years of despotism and
corruption. The present President, Roh Moo-hyun also has been blamed for his
policies: Many people say that he has already failed to be a good president.
Does Korea have a great president who all people recognize?
In this month's "Survey", The Yonsei Annals asked for thoughts on
"the evaluation of presidents" to 1,496 students of following six universities:
Kyung Hee, Korea, Yonsei, Ewha Womans, Chung-ang and HanYang. It was conducted
on Sept. 1-5 at the six universities.
politics of undergraduates
From the past, undergraduate students have taken big part in
political struggle in Korea. It was reported that Pres. Roh's victory would have
been impossible without the support from younger generation of Korean society,
including university students. It can mean university students have higher
concerns in political problems, so the Annals asked How much interest do you
have in politics? 37.3% of the students selected "normal". "High (16.0%)" and
"very high (5.4%)" gathered 21.4% of the respondents, and "low (29.2%) and "very
low (9.4%) were chosen by 35.6%. Looking at the difference between male and
female, 28.1% of the males belonged to the former, and 31.0% of them were in the
latter group. On the contrary, 16.9% of the females selected the former, and
42.9% of them chose the latter. This means males tend to be more concerned about
politics than females.
"The president of
Korea" can be described as, "CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the Republic of
Korea." Then, among university students, what is regarded as the most important
ability of a president? To find student's thoughts about talents of a president,
the Annals asked What is the most important quality of a president? 43.7% of the
people answered "national economic operational ability." And 17.9% of the
respondents chose "propulsive force" "A president must concentrate his or her
efforts on national economic problems to be successful." If you look up the
information about the achievements of great former presidents of the world, you
can see it. This result shows students already have the eye of recognizing the
national economic operational ability as the most important quality of a
president. It is a positive phenomenon, said Ham Sung Deuk, Prof. Dept. of
Political Econ. in Korea Univ.
the result of the survey
This survey aims to
find the quality and leadership of a successful president through the evaluation
of presidents. Before opening the result of the evaluation, the Annals would
like to explain something about this survey. The purpose of this survey was not
to get the exact or professional evaluation, but to find out the cognition of
university students to former presidents. And the targets of the evaluation were
limited to the "essential" presidents: Rhee Syng-man (1948-1960), Park Chung-hee
(1963-1979), Chun Doo-hwan (1980-1988), Roh Tae-woo (1988-1993), Kim Young-sam
(1933-1998), Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) and Roh Moo-hyun (2003- ) Additionally,
former presidents were evaluated through six items, "economic achievement",
"diplomatic achievement", "policy towards North Korea", "achievement on
democratization", "propulsive force" and "morality". The students could select
from one of five: "bad", "fairly bad", "middle", "fairly good" and "good".
The evaluation of the former presidents
The first item of the evaluation was "economical achievement".
Prof. Ham especially emphasized this by saying; "When somebody evaluates the
former presidents, the most important criterions are "economical achievements'
and "morality". "According to the result, 80.1% of the respondents gave "fairly
good (38.4%)" or "good (41.7%)" to Park Chung-hee. During his term, the economy
of the Republic of Korea showed an amazing growth rate. From 1963 to 1972, the
average G.N.P. (Gross National Product) growth rate per year was 8.9%, and from
1972 to 1979, it was 9.4%. Additionally, comparing 1961 to 1979, the Korean
amount of trade grew 427 times in his 17 years. This achievement could explain
why many of the students evaluated him higher in that item.
On the contrary, to Kim Young-sam, 66.5% of the respondents gave
"fairly bad (34.7%)" or "bad (31.8%)". Many people remembered that the Korean
economy faced economic crisis starting from December 1997, at the closing of his
term. Because of his economic misgovernment, the management of Korean economy
was taken away by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) from 1998 to 2001. This
is why he got such a bad grade on economic achievement. Economic crisis impacted
Korean society strongly. In 1998, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth rate of
Korea recorded -6.9%, and unemployment rate was 7.0%. GNP per person of Korea
fell from 11,176 dollars to 7,355 dollars between 1997 and 1998.
Chun Doo-hwan also
received poor grades. Related to his economic achievement, 40.2% of the people
selected "fairly bad (26.2%)" or "bad (14.0%)". However, during his term,
average GNP growth rate per year was 9.1%. Prof. Ham explained about this
result; "Among the former presidents, the economic achievements of Park
Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan were the best; however, many people remember his bad
morality, and it would have influenced the evaluation."
The evaluation of the former presidents 2;
"Diplomatic achievement" & "The policy towards North
The Korean Peninsula is surrounded by four strong countries: the
U.S., Japan, China and Russia. Diplomatic policies have decided the fate of
Korea, so a leader's diplomatic ability is regarded as an important factor to
Koreans. In the survey, the Annals could find out that Kim Dae-jung was with
"fairly good (45.7%)" and "good (14.1%)" "His summit conference between North
and South Korea should have influenced the students' thoughts. Additionally, his
policies of making a relationship with the American President, Bill Clinton
probably did, too," explained Chay pyung-gil, Prof. Dept. of Public Admin. In
However, 38.7% of the people gave "fairly bad (23.9%)" and "bad
(14.8%)" to Rhee Syng-man. In fact, the diplomatic talent of the former Pres.
Rhee Syng-man has been evaluated as "fine" by experts. Then why did he get bad
grades from many students? Prof. Ham said, "His long term despotism brought
devaluation of his diplomatic ability and achievement. In fact, former Pres.
Rhee saved Korea from the Communist camp using his diplomatic talent." Prof.
Chay explained, "The weak economic achievement of him and despotism lead to this
result, and our dim memories of him might have influenced."
For Korean Republic
has maintained a tense atmosphere with North Korea, diplomacy with North Korea
is more important than with any other countries. In the category, "The policy
towards North Korea", Kim Dae-jung was evaluated as outstanding; "fairly good"
was 44.9%, and "good" was 22.3%. According to Prof. Chay and Ham, it was
affected by his summit conference between North and South Korea. The conference
was the first meeting between the two summits of North and South after the
division of the Korean Peninsula. Prof. Ham said about former Pres. Kim's summit
conference, "Finally, it could not change the relationship between two Koreas."
This survey proved Kim Dae-jung's summit conference affected the evaluation of
him strongly in the two items, "Diplomatic achievement" and "The policy towards
The evaluation of the former presidents 3;
The Korean Republic suffered from the long despotism for about
40 years. From Rhee Syng-man to Roh Tae-woo, many Korean people tried to
democratize Korea. The students estimated Kim Dae-jung very highly on
democratization in this survey; "Fairly good (47.4%)" and "good (13.6%)" was
61.0% in total. "This high grades to former Pres. Kim is related to his
democracy movement during military despotism. In fact, his achievement on
democratization during his term was not noticeable", Prof. Ham said.
Former Pres. Kim Young-sam gathered 27.8% of the students on "fairly good
(24.7%)" and "good (3.1%)". Prof. Ham explained, "The achievement on
democratization of Kim Young-sam during his term is estimated highly. However,
his achievement is not evaluated as well as Kim Dae-jung. It is because the
students have a bad image of him for the economic crisis." Prof. Chay explained
a little differently, "Kim Young-sam showed coalition with Roh Tae-woo, the
president of military regime. This influenced the evaluation." After former
Pres. Roh won the election, he unified the government party and two opposition
parties. Between those two parties, Kim Young-sam was the chief of one of them.
Many people blamed Kim because for consorting with the military regime for
presidency. It was enough to be regarded as a betrayal to Koreans who opposed
the military dictatorship.
The evaluation of the former president
"Propulsive force" and "Morality"
Prof. Chay emphasized, "Propulsive force means the president's
leadership." Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan were regarded as the presidents
with the most powerful driving force. Former Prof. Park's propulsive force was
evaluated good enough to gather 78.7% of the students on "fairly good (33.7%)"
and "good (45.0%)". 38.0% of the students gave good grades to Chun Doo-hwan;
"fairly good" was 28.8% and "good" was 9.2%. Regarding the result, Prof. Ham
said, "They are the symbol of despotism. They had the power of the military. It
is negative fact that many people think their oppressive attitudes are same as
Although Park and Chun were evaluated affirmatively in the
propulsive force category, neither of them got even average grades on morality.
Many people thought Korean presidents have been very weak on morality. Prof.
Chay said, "When we evaluated the four presidents from Rhee Syng-man to Roh
Tae-woo, many people consider despotism as the standard of morality: On the
other hand, for Presidents after Kim Young-sam, the standard is "corruption" of
their sons or surrounding people." From Rhee Syng-man to Roh Tae-woo, their
evaluations are so poor. According Prof. Chay, it was because those four
presidents are the symbol of dictators. The rate of the respondents who selected
"fairly good" and "good" on morality to four presidents was like this: Rhee
Syng-man was 68.5%, Park Chung-hee was 53.8%, Chun Doo-hwan was 84.2% and Roh
Tae-woo was 78.5%.
Among all of the
former presidents, only Kim Dae-jung got an affirmative evaluation. 29.9% of the
people chose "fairly good (25.1%)" or "good (4.8%)". "In fact, this positive
evaluation of Kim Dae-jung cannot be correct because his three sons committed
corruption. They trafficked in government posts. I think the result was
influenced by the positive P.R. (Public Relations) of the present government.
The reason that Pres. Roh protects Kim is that Roh was the successor of Kim
Dae-jung in Government party," explained Prof. Ham.
Present President, Roh Moo-hyun
The term of the present president, Roh Moo-hyun began on Feb.
25, 2002. For about two years and a half, many policies have been proposed
by him, and the policies are still hot issues in Korea. In this situation, the
Annals felt necessity of the interim evaluation to him, so asked students to
check on the six items: "economic policies", "diplomatic policies", "the
policies toward North Korea," "achievement on democratization", "propulsive
force" and "morality".
The students gave negative grades to him. Especially, 63.5% of
the respondents chose "fairy bad (43.0%" and "bad (20.5%)" on "economic
policies". Prof. Ham and Chay both points out together, "From now, Pres. Roh
must strive for the Korean economy. The social and political reforms can be
considered secondary to the economic policy, because when a nation is poor,
reforms are impossible. Only when a nation is free from having to worry about
poverty, social and political reforms can be realized. Pres. Roh is giving
priority to things that are less important. I want to say to him, "Please
concentrate on the Korean economy!"
Additionally, Pres. Roh's "diplomatic policies" got poor grades;
37.3% of the people selected "fairly bad", and 17.4% chose "bad". "His
diplomatic policies lacked consistency and are the reason of this result. His
policies about diplomacy do not have a concrete object", said Prof. Ham. Prof.
Chay explained, "Many students have anti-U.S. emotions, while Pres. Roh's
policies do not. That is why many students did not give high grades to
Then, what is the most important problem that Pres.
Roh is facing? To figure this out, the Annals asked What is the problem that the
present president should concentrate his efforts on?. 63.0% of the respondents
chose "stimulating the economy." To the next question, What is the most
important job that the next president will have?, 52.5% of the students answered
"national economic operational ability." The results of the two questions show
that students are emphasizing the importance of the economy. "Nowadays, most
students agree that the economic hardship is the most important issue. It means
opinion gap between conservatives and progressives are not too big in this
prospect," said Prof. Ham and Chay.
The image of the
In Korea, politics has progressed by various parties, and they
have endeavored to get higher support rate than the other parties. Many people
said true progressive and conservative parties do not exist in Korea; however,
generally speaking, Uri Party ? the government party and DLP (Democratic Labor
Party) are regarded as the progressives. Compared to them, GNP (The Grand
National Party) represents conservatives. To figure out the students' supporting
rates for each parties, the Annals asked What party do you support now?. "Not
support any party" gathered 36.0%, and Uri Party and GNP were chosen by 22.5%
and 16.7% each. "Many people do not support any party and they do not trust any
party in Korea. Political parties are not showing their clear visions to Korean
people," was Prof. Chay's explanation. To the question, What is the most
important standard of judgment when deciding your preferable party?, 42.0% of
the students replied "political ideas", and 17.6% selected "clarity (How far
away a party is from corruption)" Whether a party is progressive or conservative
can be the main standard to students. The results show the students prefer
progressivism or middle-progressivism to conservatism through the fact that more
students support Uri Party and DLP than GNP.
Though the students
support several parties, their faith in Korean politics was so little. When the
Annals asked What are the two words that comes across your mind of when you
think about Korean politics?, the Annals researched frequency of the words,
"irregularities and corruption," "political battle" or "fighting". 55.1% of the
people wrote one or two of these words on papers. This proves that those words
represent the image of Korean politics to the students. Prof. Ham made an
additional remark, "In fact, people express their distrust in politics in other
countries as well; however, Korean people's negative cognition of politics is
too serious. "Distrust in politicians has been the incurable thing in Korean
politics. It is time that Korean politicians act for Korean
Prof. Ham advises
young people "Are you doing your best to find only the presidents" negative
policies and traits? "Youth in Korea also should make more efforts to see the
positive aspects of presidents." Many Koreans and politicians have tried to
disparage the former presidents; however, Korean people must develop an attitude
of learning something from their positive aspects. By understanding all their
positive and negative traits, incoming politicians, whom one day will be one of
university students of nowadays, selected among the present university students
need to find the way to be a successful politician. A great president will be
selected among those successful politicians. For now, Korean people are dreaming
of a great leader who can change Korea. Where would he or she be now?
IT IS said Koreans think Park Chung-hee was the great president of
Korea. I also think he was the "greatest" one of Korea, while anyone does
not regard him as the president who all of us can be proud of. Park
Chung-hee was the hero of not Korea, but just only economy of Korea. If
Koreans had the former president like Lincoln, any of us may not regard
Park Chung-hee as the successful president. Isn't it afraid of not having
a good leader who can be respected by all Koreans?
people are living the complex society that anyone ever has not
experienced. Republic of Korea is the ship drifting about at the mercy of
the waves. To Koreans, a president is the captain of the ferry, "Korea",
and eight captains have helped Korean sailors steered the ship for 50
years. Whether they did lead or not, the present Pres. Roh is the
commander now. I want that he will remained as the successful politician
sincerely not because I like him, but because he is the leader of us. I
also expect his role as the bridge to a great president if he cannot be
the successful one. If he or she are living now, I would like to shout to
the hero of the future called as "one of the greatest presidents of the
world." "Hey, we have been dreaming of you for a long time, Mr.