Advisers to the Military Manpower Authority said it was not clear why the founder of the "fair society" initiative wasn't recalled to military service at the time, but legal advisers have recommended that the crackdown on draft-dodging should be applied retrospectively, even in the President's case.
Privately, generals have said that if the President could fight in the National Assembly, where the battles are often physical and bloody, he could certainly fight in a military unit where soldiers are mostly expected to beat juniors who – unlike lawmakers – are not allowed to fight back. There are hopes within the ruling party that the President's combat experience in politics may be taken into account, reducing the time he is require to serve again.
Last week, experts called on the military to accept that a multicultural army will replace its focus on racial purity, and it is thought that by completing his service the President – who was born in Japan under the name Tsukiyama Akihiro – can demonstrate what a happy socially integrated society Korea has become.
While the President's age may limit the amount of beatings his superiors can subject him to without requiring hospitalization, there are few concerns about his fitness. According to the little-read left-wing Hankyoreh newspaper, Lee Myung-bak has the heart of a younger man, in a jar on his desk. He probably also won't be required to undergo front-line duties, and will instead gain his combat experience in a military unit which provides entertainment programs, joining top K-pop star Rain who also wanted to be an active duty soldier. Military leaders will be hoping that while the President is undergoing his tough mandatory* service, he may entertain troops by repeating the success of the earlier work he penned – Four Rivers and Seventeen Funerals.
There are also hopes that the President's service will also demonstrate to future conscripts that allegations the military modeled its human resources policies on mafia-like criminal gangs are overblown. After Rain began his mandatory* military service as a 'Promotional Ambassador' an official with the Military Manpower Administration said "We hope that his exemplary military service will contribute to encouraging young men to fulfill their own military duty." Last year, Rain was voted the world's most influential person for the third time, and according to the Ministry of Culture, Rain is mentioned thousands of times every day in foreign news reports around the world.
It is understood that in line with his "fair society" initiative, the President expects no special favors during his service, and will be paid the average monthly wage of conscripted soldiers – 100,000 won ($88), in addition to his presidential salary.
Lee Myung-bak's re-enlistment is likely to set a precedent for other lawmakers, a number of whom are also accused of being draft dodgers after avoiding military service due to a variety of reasons which include coughs, mental illness and inflammation involving envelopes of cash. But off the record some hit back at the development – one 61 year-old lawmaker who only gave his family name as Kim, said that the public should elect clever politicians, not the kind who are stupid enough to waste up to two years of their lives doing military service. "If you can't even bribe a doctor, what hope have you in politics?" he asked.
The President was unavailable for comment as he currently has a sore throat, but aides sought to assure the public – especially those who undertook their own mandatory* military service – that he would report for duty as soon as he was well enough.
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* Exceptions may apply to the famous and well-connected. Offer not open to North Korean defectors or women.