March 12, 2004

Roh exit

South Korea's parliament, after a dramatic and rather pathetic brawl, voted to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun and suspended his powers.


It was a tawdry spectacle but with luck the closing chapter on a very disappointing presidency.

Roh (pronounced 'Noh') came to power as a young lawyer who would crack down on chaebol corruption, accelerate the corporate restructing begun by Kim Dae-jung, and stand up to the United States. He embodied the values of most Koreans below the age of 40. Set against the background of the highly successful World Cup it co-hosted in 2002, Korea and Roh were poised to enjoy a new dawn.

It didn't turn out that way. Roh has repeatedly acknowledged corruption among his ranks and accepting illegal campaign donations. Corporate governance slipped badly. The 'sunshine policy' toward Pyongyang was tarnished first by revelations that DJ Kim paid bribes to Kim Yong-il to secure their summit (and his Nobel Prize), and second by revelations by the US last year that North Korea was cheating on its nuclear promises. Roh's image cracked further with his decision to support the US invasion of Iraq and later to send troops. The under-40s feel betrayed.

Moreover Roh was incompetent, even if his heart was in the right place. He frequently and publically mulled resigning, saying he didn't feel up to the job. His public speeches had become full of apologies for this and that. Confidence ebbed.

Although I disagree with Roh's stance toward North Korea - I find it naive, like many of his views - I feel bad about the way his presidency has unravelled. The values he represented, such as transparency and human rights, are the right ones to lead Korea and Korean companies in the future. His downfall is yet another embarrassment for a country that, for all its success and prosperity, remains insecure. It certainly illustrates how deeply ingrained corruption remains in political and business life. Can Korea find the true reformer it needs?

Posted by Jame at 09:55 AM GMT

I once saw a play in Sydney called "Noh Exit". It was a noh rendition of Sartre's No Exit, the one where he posits that "hell is other people." The name "Noh Exit" would have been the perfect headline for this post, were it not for the fact that it is also a mortifyingly obscure pun.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on March 12, 2004 08:32 PM

Roh, prounced Noh...thought that was what I was doing. Too clever by half?

Posted by: Jame on March 13, 2004 05:16 AM

Noh, pronounced D'oh.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on March 14, 2004 10:22 PM