Lee Myung Bak’s Administration (2008–present)
Lee Myung Bak was elected on a conservative platform and inaugurated in February 2008. He promised to improve the economy and take a hard line against North Korea.
Although North Korea had welcomed two summit meetings, established a trade zone along its border with South Korea, and opened two tourist sites to South Koreans (first the Diamond Mountains on the east coast and later the old capital of Kaesong just north of the DMZ), it continued to provoke international concerns by exploding a nuclear device and launching missiles into the North Pacific.
Excursions to the Diamond Mountains, which had provided significant foreign exchange to North Korea, were suspended indefinitely when a woman in her early 50s wandered off the path and was shot and killed by a North Korean guard in July 2008. South Korea demanded on apology, but North Korea refused, saying its guard was only obeying standing orders.
One of the successes that Lee rode into the Blue House was his transformation of a section of Seoul by restoring a once-polluted stream into a showpiece of nature in the middle of the city. Initially opposed by taxi and bus drivers, once the stream was completed its beauty swept the population of Seoul off its feet.
However, Lee’s administration thus far has been less successful. Once nicknamed the “bulldozer” because of his style of pushing his agenda through all opposition, as president Lee was no longer able to bulldoze his programs past the opposition. Hampered by the economic slowdown that spilled over from the U.S. recession in 2008–09, Lee has not been able to deliver on his promise of an economic recovery.
In early 2009 Lee vigorously pursued corruption charges against his predecessor, Roh Moo Hyun. Roh denied the charges at first, but then admitted to having taken money. On the eve of turning himself in for arrest, he requested to visit his home in the countryside.
While hiking up a small mountain overlooking his home, he plunged off a sharp precipice. The nation turned on President Lee for having pushed the investigation when the alleged bribery was relatively small. By mid-2009 Lee’s approval ratings had fallen very low.