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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Oct. 4)

All News 07:17 October 04, 2016

Nation in trouble
: Lack of leadership prevalent, distressing all sectors of society from politics to labor

Take a broad look at what’s happening in all sectors of Korean society and you will be convinced this country is in big trouble. You will also agree that lack of efficient and trusted leadership is primarily to blame for the current dismal state of the nation.

For starters, politics is in utter disarray. The National Assembly has been paralyzed for more than one week since the opposition unilaterally passed a no-confidence vote against Agriculture Minister Kim Jae-soo.

The action prompted the ruling party to -- as if to reflect President Park Geun-hye’s wrath -- boycott the annual audit of the government and launch severe political and legal attacks on National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun for siding with the opposition parties.

In the first place, the three opposition parties should share the responsibility for laying the ground for the parliamentary impasse. It was obvious that they made a scapegoat of the agriculture minister -- who did not commit any big wrongdoing -- to flex their muscle and deal a blow to the Park presidency.

Chung added insult to injury, as the speaker -- in violation of the law that obliges him to remain neutral -- sided with his home party, The Minjoo Party of Korea, and two other minor opposition parties. Like his predecessor, Chung renounced his party membership upon election as speaker, but he betrayed his obligation to neutrality.

The opposition’s political motives and Chung’s collaboration, however, cannot justify what the ruling Saenuri Party had done in response to the no-confidence vote.

The most comic turn of events was that its Chairman Lee Jung-hyun held a hunger strike for one week -- an unprecedented means of protest by a ruling party leader -- to demand Chung step down. Lee stopped fasting Sunday and Saenuri Party members decided to return to the Assembly on Tuesday, but they too cannot avoid blame for their excessive protests.

Obviously, Park -- well known for her hardball politics -- is behind this excessively hard-hitting reaction of the ruling party, which must have thought that if they were pushed back, they would lose the political initiative to the opposition.

As political leaders are preoccupied with such a do-or-die battle, there may well come room for other sectors of society to go astray. One good example is the escalating labor unrest.

Following a recent strike by bank and hospital workers, members of railway and subway unions went on a walkout Sept. 27 in protest over the government-pushed performance-based pay system.

The railway and subway workers’ strike, the first such joint action in 22 years, came amid intermittent strikes by the union of Hyundai Motor, the country’s largest automaker. The Hyundai union’s work stoppage, which started July 19, is causing colossal losses not only to the automaker, but also the national economy.

The Hyundai strike dragged down car production in August by 12.1 percent from July, which forced the industrial output in the month to retreat 0.1 percent from a month earlier and pushed down the factory utilization rate to a 7 1/2-year low of 70.4 percent. All these negative developments come while the Korean economy is struggling with shrinking exports and lackluster progress in restructuring of industries like shipping, shipbuilding, petrochemicals and steel.

Security is one more area of concern. The Park administration’s flip-flop on the site for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery is one good example.

South Korea and the US plan to deploy the US advanced missile shield system to counter the growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea. But the Park administration gave in to the residents’ protest and changed the site for the THAAD battery.

This and all the other recent developments in the country show that the public has every right to wonder whether leaders in this country are capable of steering them out of trouble.

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