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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
08SEOUL2082
2008-10-23 06:57:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Seoul
Cable title:  

PATIENT LEE STILL STUCK ON THE RUNWAY

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  PINR  KN  KS 
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VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #2082/01 2970657
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 230657Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2064
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 4882
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 9040
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4995
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 2828
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUALSFJ/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA
RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 002082 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/10/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KN KS
SUBJECT: PATIENT LEE STILL STUCK ON THE RUNWAY

Classified By: POL Joseph Y. Yun. Reasons 1.4 (b,d).

C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 002082

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/10/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KN KS
SUBJECT: PATIENT LEE STILL STUCK ON THE RUNWAY

Classified By: POL Joseph Y. Yun. Reasons 1.4 (b,d).


1. (SBU) Summary: Political consultant Park Sung-min told
poloffs over a recent lunch that President Lee Myung-bak was
in dire straits. Neither President Lee nor his staff
understood the reasons behind Lee's flagging popularity
(stuck around 25 percent in recent polls) and had no idea
what to do to recover the public's trust. Park laid out
three political choices that Lee faces in trying to overcome
his current moribund situation. Unfortunately, Park
predicted the options that might save him -- embracing rival
Park Geun-hye or striking out in a new political direction --
were both unlikely. Park Sung-min predicted that the ruling
Grand National Party (GNP) could split up before the 2012
National Assembly elections and that --whether or not Lee
improves his sagging support rates -- Park Geun-hye would
find it difficult to win the presidency in 2012. End Summary

--------------
Lee's Three Choices
--------------


2. (SBU) One of the most respected voices on domestic
political trends, consultant Park Sung-min told poloffs that
President Lee Myung-bak had three political paths to choose
from as he tries to recover the public support that has
substantially evaporated just eight months into his term.
First, Lee could embrace political party rival Park Geun-hye
and support her candidacy for president in 2012. If he did
this, Lee would naturally gain the support of those who
support Park, in and out of the National Assembly. His
second option is to make a bold move toward "new politics" by
abandoning his attacks on the "lost 10 years" of the previous
two presidents. Instead, Lee could embrace the positive
accomplishments of his predecessors and try to improve upon
them rather than emphasizing ideological differences between
himself and former progressive presidents Roh Moo-hyun and
Kim Dae-jung. This choice would mean scaling back attacks on
"left-wing forces" in Korea today and reaching out to Honam
(the traditionally liberal stronghold of North and South
Jeolla) supporters to quell regional rivalries. Third, he

could ignore his low approval rate, give favorable positions
to his close aides and use the executive branch's extensive
powers to attack elements not supportive of his presidency
(NGOs, businesses, politicians). Park said after the beef
controversy, Lee had been taking the third option.

--------------
Misreading Lee's Popularity
--------------


3. (SBU) According to Park and acknowledged by our Blue
House contacts, President Lee is waiting for his support rate
to get over 30 percent before putting forward controversial
legislation and taking decisive actions. Park said that this
strategy comes from an overly optimistic assessment of Lee's
popularity. He was elected with only 48 percent of the vote
with a turnout of 62 percent -- so really only 30 percent of
the Korean people supported him. Even among those who voted
for him, many did not like Lee but simply supported the GNP
or Park Geun-hye. Since about half of those who voted for
Lee supported Park Geun-hye, it is logical that Lee's support
in polls would hover between 20 and 30 percent. Lee should
not hesitate to act, Park argued, because his support rate
will not improve on its own. Lee's advisors fundamentally
overestimate how popular Lee is, and, until they accept that
Lee is not a popular figure, they can not reform their
strategy.


4. (SBU) Many in the Lee Administration thought that Lee's
low popularity was due to attacks by the left-wing media --
notably KBS and MBC. Park said that Lee's advisors believe
that if they reform media and install pro-Lee management to
the main government-controlled media outlets, Lee's
popularity will go up; this was a misguided assumption by Lee
and his advisors. In the same vein, Park said that Lee had
chosen to attack former President Roh but that these attacks
would not boost Lee's popularity.

--------------
Future of the GNP Bleak
--------------


5. (SBU) In Korea one year after taking power, the ruling
party usually seeks to reorganize. Therefore, in 2009, the
GNP will likely try to reorganize, restructure or at least
change leadership with a party convention. Supporters of
former lawmaker and close Lee Myung-bak aide Lee Jae-o hope
for an early convention to oust current GNP Chair Park
Hee-tae while Park Geun-hye supporters hope for a later
convention after the 2010 local elections.


6. (SBU) Touching on the prospects for some of the GNP
leaders, Park noted that he would not advise Lee Jae-o to run
again for the National Assembly in a by-election in 2009, but
rather seek a cabinet position. Park Sung-min thought Park
Geun-hye might have real difficulty in becoming president in
2012 because there will likely be backlash against the GNP
candidate if Lee continues to have tepid support.
Conversely, if Lee recovers his popularity toward the end of
his term, he would attempt to give the candidacy to one of
his supporters instead of Park.

--------------
Comment
--------------


7. (C) President Lee's performance has been frustrating and
disappointing for many conservatives who had hoped the new
president would act quickly on social and political issues
such as education, labor and real estate. Instead he appears
unable and, worse, unwilling to do much of anything, thus
triggering the current debate whether this is all there is to
the LMB presidency. Certainly, Park's view that Lee's
coterie of yes-men will not likely give him the tough message
that he needs to stop treading water and pick a direction in
which to swim is gaining more coinage, especially on tough
social and political reforms Lee had promised.
STEPHENS