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S. Korean President's Approval Rating Plunges Over Economy, N. Korea


New poll data indicate South Korean public approval of President Roh Moo-Hyun has hit an all-time low. With an over-heated real estate market and a nuclear-armed North Korea dominating Seoul's headlines, Mr. Roh's support seems to be plunging, as he enters his final year in office.

The Korea Society Opinion Institute says a new poll shows just 11 percent of South Koreans think President Roh Moo-hyun is doing a good job. That is down from 31 percent in a similar poll in April.

The institute, a non-governmental research organization based here in Seoul, said Friday that it polled 700 South Korean adults earlier this month. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they thought Mr. Roh was failing in his presidency.

Chang Hyung-chol, one of the institute's directors, says negative sentiment was the same among South Koreans in their 30s and among older citizens - suggesting that Mr. Roh's base of younger supporters has eroded.

Chang says respondents in their 30s were overwhelmingly concerned by the Roh administration's failure to halt the upward surge of real estate prices.

The real estate spiral has dominated the news media here for months, with many blaming Mr. Roh's policies for over-heating demand, and yielding too much influence to speculators.

A group of South Korean engineers illustrated the problem this week by posting side-by-side price comparisons on the Internet. They showed castles in Europe, and apartments in Seoul's upscale Kangnam district that cost about the same.

Public confidence in President Roh and his Uri party has declined steadily since the administration's high point in 2004, when the president successfully emerged from an impeachment process with a legislative majority.

Political Science Professor Kim Hyung-joon, of Seoul's Kookmin University, says Mr. Roh's choice of assistants is partially to blame for the slide.

He says Mr. Roh has failed to appoint senior officials with real policy expertise, opting instead for appointees who shared his ideology.

President Roh's approach to dealing with North Korea has drawn especially sharp criticism in recent months.

Following Pyongyang's ballistic missile tests in July and its test explosion of a nuclear weapon in October, opponents have lambasted Mr. Roh's policy of uncritical financial support for the North. The South Korean president himself has said his policy of engagement with the North would have to be adjusted, but he continues to express support for the policy's fundamental principles.

Elections to choose Mr. Roh's successor are scheduled for December of next year, shortly before his term is set to expire. Experts are questioning whether he will have enough time, or political capital, to achieve one of his administration's most ambitious goals - a highly contentious free-trade agreement with the United States.

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