Like a CEO, through and through

Via the 17th Korean presidential election held last December and the 18th National Assembly election last month, the conservatives returned to power after 10 years. Comparable to what’s been happening in the recent elections in the UK. The explanations could be many, but in the Korean case at least, voters’ worries over economy was definitely the decisive factor. When the then-candidate Lee, ex-CEO of Hyundai Construction, said he would be a “CEO-like president” and revamp the economy like the good old days when Korea’s economic growth was called a ‘miracle’, it worked for both older voters and newly eligible ones. Such voting patterns didn’t exactly strike as a surprise. Many old voters are indeed nostalgic about the good old days, and voters in their 20s have immediate concerns about the current unstable job market. As for the latter, even the term “880,000-Won Generation” was coined (Woo & Park, 2007) to highlight the fact that this generation is either unemployed or earning less than a third of what their predecessors earn. Yes, 880,000 Won sounds like a lot, as it is literally 6-figure income (sorry, a bad joke), but that’s the amount you’d earn per month if you are lucky enough to secure some temporary job spots. In British pounds, it’s around 440. As far as I understand, such is not a phenomenon unique to Korea though. I haven’t read it, but a similar book was published in Italy in 2006, titled “1.000 Euros Generation [Generazione 1.000 Euro]”, and initiated huge public discussion (Website here).

Anyway, Lee was eventually elected – with a rather wide margin, actually, of 22%. The thing is that it has been 3 months since he was sworn in, and hardly a day has gone by without protests against his policy moves, both online and offline. I know a president cannot please the whole populace, but if presidential approval rate drops to the region of 20% within the first 3 months, surely something needs attention. But this CEO-like president, who once worked his way up in Hyundai by ‘getting jobs done quickly’, seems determined to push on his projects such as importing a full range of American beef (I mean really ‘full’), digging a Grand Canal horizontally through the peninsula (Yes, it’s happening) and privatising, well, almost every public service. In response to recent civic pressure, Lee delivered a speech on Thursday, whereby he apologised for any inconvenience he may have caused, promised he would be better at communication, but asked the citizens to bear with him a bit more. I am in the status where I have too many things that I would like to ask him back to know where to start.

A couple of days ago, there was another TV debate on the government’s performance. There has been a series of it lately. As I am a bit out of Korean TV reception, I only read bits and pieces about it. Apparently, during the programme, there was a call-in from a gentleman named Yang, who perfectly summarised the situation. His wise words are: “When Lee said he would think and act like a CEO, we expected him to think of us citizens as customers. But he seems to think of us as his employees.” I couldn’t have said it better, so let me quote him and leave it for now.


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