Thursday marks the first anniversary of President Moon Jae-in’s inauguration.
His approval rating hovers around 83 percent, according to Gallup Korea. It is the highest rating of all time for the first year of a president. Even considering the poll was conducted after a historic inter-Korean summit, it is surprising that his rating is more than double the 41 percent of the vote he won in the presidential election.
As the most important accomplishment in its first year, the Moon administration cited that it “opened the way to peace on the Korean Peninsula.” The leaders of South and North Korea agreed to denuclearize the peninsula at Panmunjeom where the truce ending the Korean War was signed. No doubt it was a dramatic change even Moon could not imagine a year ago.
But both Koreas face a long road ahead before a permanent peace regime can take root on the Korean Peninsula.
Now, Koreans are at a crucial point in history, with their fate at stake. It is not time to indulge in rash behavior and to lose cool-headed judgement. It is time to take a strategic and prudent approach to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs within the term of this administration.
The government has sped up efforts to eliminate deep-rooted evils under the banner of “a righteous Korea of the people.”
As an extension of the efforts, former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak have been brought to justice, but this caused strong backlash from some people, who regard it as political retaliation.
The limits of the Moon administration were exposed as well.
Failed nominations are a case in point. Some nominees were found to have violated Moon’s own five criteria: draft dodging, real estate speculation, tax evasion, false resident registration and dissertation plagiarism.
Most recently, Financial Supervisory Service Gov. Kim Ki-shik stepped down over illegal sponsored trips. The appointments that went wrong have tainted the morality of the Moon administration.
In addition, the economic front is where the Moon administration really needs to do better from its second year.
The Gallup Korea poll showed a mere 47 percent supported its economic policies. This is below 54 percent 100 days after his inauguration and 52 percent six months after Moon took office.
Even though the first 3 percent growth in three years and $30,000 per capita income are expected to be realized this year, the Moon administration’s top-priority problem of job creation shows no signs of being resolved.
Many low-wage jobs available to the underprivileged disappeared largely due to an excessive increase in the hourly minimum wage.
The employment crisis looms large. Last year, 1.03 million people were jobless, and the youth jobless rate climbed to 9.9 percent. Both figures at their highest since 2000.
The government poured 18.28 trillion won ($16.89 billion), the largest amount ever, into job projects last year and further increased its job budget to 19.23 trillion won this year, but it has not seen the intended effects.
Job creation must be led by the private sector, not with taxpayers’ money.
An experimental model called income-led growth has made the government stick to short-term demand rather than address fundamental and long-term supply-side problems such as restructuring, productivity and innovation.
Without economic performance, accomplishments in inter-Korean relations, diplomacy and domestic politics will lose their luster.
It is right to reform chaebol, family-controlled business conglomerates, by banning circular cross-shareholding and putting a brake on chaebol’s power abuse. From now on, in step with these, the Moon administration must carry out labor reforms targeting the vested interests of large unions.
The Moon administration must also strive harder for national integration. Moon emphasized in his inaugural address that he would become a president for all the people. However, strife between conservatives and liberals, exposed in the process of eliminating evils, is still as deep as ever. Uprooting past wrongs is important, but it is just as essential to unite national power through reconciliation and integration.