If asked to select one modifier that best summarizes the Park Geun-hye administration's first year, most Koreans will pick "uncommunicative." On Wednesday, the president's chief spokesman reaffirmed why.
"If being uncommunicative means unyielding to opposing forces, we will only be glad to hear such criticism throughout our term in office," Lee Jung-hyun, senior press secretary to Park, told reporters. ''If they point fingers at our adherence to principles as being uncommunicative, I'll call it ‘proud disconnectedness.'"
We cannot know whether Lee was reflecting what President Park feels about popular criticism about her lack of communication, or the glaring gaffe just mirrored his own frustration from being sandwiched between his stubborn boss and a reproachful public, or both.
One thing seems certain, however: President Park and her Cheong Wa Dae aides are on a different wavelength to the rest of the country. For example, Lee also asked whether Park should invite each and every one of the 48 million Koreans for lunch to avoid the uncommunicative label. What Lee must know is that few, if any, Koreans want a face-to-face meet with their leader.
What they want is far more modest ― to hear their president's views on major issues, including some uncomfortable topics, such as state spy agencies' alleged interference in the presidential election ― and in two-way communication instead of one-sided statements or instructions to aides.
The best way to do this is to hold a news conference with Cheong Wa Dae correspondents, but Park has not held such an event true to its name in her first year in contrast to most previous presidents with the probable exception of her immediate predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.
Considering even general-turned-presidents held regular, if perfunctory and choreographed, news conferences, the two successive conservative leaders' dereliction of the most important and basic duty ― meeting directly with people through public media ― best demonstrates the setback of democracy in this country.
Encouraged by a relatively decent approval rating of 54 percent, President Park and her secretaries may think a silent majority is supporting their way of conducting state affairs. More probably, most of her popularity might come from far-right voters who do not know ― or even mind ― what true democracy is, and think a president who can face down North Korea is the best leader.
On the anniversary of her election, President Park said she would advance "looking at only people." But she must know even 60 percent of government employees think last year's election was not completely fair. Nothing will be more glaring than seeing a president spend five years gripped with a defense mentality and surrounded by flatterers and blind ideologues.