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South Korean Leadership In Deepening Crisis Of State

The Korean people have been on the receiving end of bad state craft for a century.
by Lee Jong-Heon
Seoul (UPI) Dec 29, 2006
South Korea is facing a leadership crisis as the popularity of its reformist leader and his party has plunged to record lows this year following a spate of scandals, policy failures and political wrangling.

In a move to prepare for next year's presidential election, top leaders of the ruling Uri Party decided this week to "divorce" from maverick President Roh Moo-hyun and his loyalists and create a new political party, which can change the country's reform-dominated political landscape.

Roh's approval rating plummeted to an all-time-low to 10.2 percent this month, according to a public survey conducted by a local polling agency Korea Society Opinion Institute. Another poll showed Roh's popularity was 5.7 percent earlier this month. His rating marked as high as 60 percent just after he took office in early 2003.

Uri Party's popularity has also plunged to under 10 percent, further widening the gap with the main opposition Grand National Party that garnered 45 percent.

Surveys said some 70 percent of South Koreans expect the anti-communist GNP to take power in next year's presidential election.

Only 8.3 percent of those polled expect a candidate from the Uri Party to win the election. If ruling lawmakers leave Roh and form a new party that seeks gradual reforms, it will have a 9.8 percent chance to win the election, according to a recent opinion poll.

The public's disgust against the ruling camp was evidenced by the local elections in May in which the Uri Party suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the GNP, which swept 12 of the 16 key races. The Uri Party won only one post in its political home turf in the elections, which were widely seen as a referendum on Roh's performance ahead of presidential polls slated for next December.

Besieged by rock-bottom approval ratings and growing outcry within his own party, Roh has repeatedly threatened that he could step down before his five-year term ends in early 2008, which put the country under a deeper political turmoil.

As lately as late November, Roh said it was "becoming increasingly difficult to serve as president," after his bid to seat his loyalist as the head the Constitutional Court was blocked by the opposition parties and public criticism.

In February, Roh sent jitters across the political spectrum with comments that the five-year presidential term felt "too long," after his offer to form a pan-political alliance was rejected by the opposition parties. Earlier Roh said he was doubtful over whether he would be able to hold onto his seat.

The "irresponsible" remarks on retirement have deepened public distrust on Roh who barely survived South Korea's first-ever presidential impeachment in 2004. The political parties have raised concerns about the possibility of the president defaulting on his obligations to the public.

Analysts say Roh appears to be playing brinkmanship politics to fend off growing challenges from both ruling and opposition parties, but he is under fire for playing a risky political gamble that has caused a leadership crisis.

Roh's maverick behaviors have combined with scandals, economic slump and policy failures to undermine his popularity.

Roh had to offer a public apology in August for a snowballing gambling scandal. His government was criticized for its inadequate business approval and loose oversight over speculative gambling games, which has allowed the country's slot machine empire to rapidly grow, leaving many people penniless and addicted to gambling. The arcade game boom was found to be built with political backing.

Roh's push to regain wartime control of South Korean troops from the United States has caused a strong backlash from conservative forces, such as the Korean War veterans and anti-communist groups.

Roh sharply criticized former military brass last week for opposing his plan to regain the full operational control and for "dereliction of duty," noting they did not pursue a more independent military capability. In a furious response, former military leaders gathered and called for Roh's apology. They also threatened to stage public campaigns to unseat Roh.

Roh has been also accused of the failure of curbing skyrocketing house prices, which caused concerns about the possible bursting of a real estate bubble. Roh has repeatedly vowed to "do whatever he could" to calm the housing market, but his remarks have only triggered a buying spree, highlighting deep distrust of the public in government policies.

Most analysts say Roh would quickly become a lame ducks and his political clout was likely to dwindle fast in his remaining one year, as political parties have already geared up for next year's presidential election.

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Tehran (AFP) Dec 28, 2006
Former Iranian officials spoke out against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline nuclear policies and urged a return to transparency and moderation, in interviews published on Thursday. "A new government has been at work for one year and sanctions and (UN) resolutions have been adopted against Iran," said Mohammad Hashemi, the brother of ex-president Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, according to the moderate daily Kargozaran.

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