Updated June. 25, 2014 05:46
Prime Minister nominee Moon Chang-keuk, who had been under controversy over alleged pro-Japan, anti-Korean view of history, voluntarily withdrew his nomination on Tuesday, 14 days after the nomination. Moon said, I judged that withdrawing my nomination at this point in time would help President Park Geun-hye. This constitutes a personnel management disaster of the Park administration, in which two prime minister nominees have withdrawn their nominations after Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered to resign following the sinking of the Sewol ferry.
As controversy flared up over interpretation of lectures and op-ed pieces that Moon delivered and wrote as active journalist, public opinion developed in a direction unfavorable to him. The most notable was his lecture and column on imperial Japans colonial rule of Korea and comfort women also known as sex slaves. Korea Broadcasting System or KBS, which broke the story on his lecture at a church, distorted the true meaning of the lecture by selectively reporting excerpts, rather than the talks and column in entirety. Moreover, the lecture at the church was delivered to congregation by Moon as an elder. Even if one does not agree on his view of the world in which he sees everything from the perspective of the Christian doctrine of predestination, the media should have adequately taken such special situation into consideration. Rather than trying to verify the factuality of his remarks concerning history, controversy was developed into ideological duel between leftists and rightists, and between conservatives and liberals, which illustrates poor debate culture in the Korean society.
Parliamentary confirmation hearing was first introduced in 2000 to check the presidents right to personnel management and to verify whether candidates for top government posts have the necessary capabilities and personal quality to fulfill his or her official duties. The measure was also aimed at minimizing side-effects from unconditional accusations and reckless criticism of candidates outside the National Assembly, including media reports that are based on inaccurate information, to conduct accurate and fair verification of their eligibility. In this context, the Moon Chang-keuk controversy was an exemplary case that deserved full-blown verification and debate process through a confirmation hearing.
Nevertheless, the political circle attempted to outright block Moon from having the opportunity to get a confirmation hearing. Opposition parties pressured the administration to cancel Moons nomination or him to voluntarily withdraw his nomination, while some in the ruling party also concurred. It is an act of violence that damaged procedural democracy. Immediately after Moons press conference to announce the withdrawal of his nomination on Tuesday, Park said I deeply regret that he cannot have an opportunity for confirmation hearing, which cannot be construed as a responsible act either. If she nominated Moon based on various considerations and verification process, she should have righteously and confidently demanded the National Assembly to hold a confirmation hearing on him.
Moons response after eruption of controversy over his view of history was not appropriate at best either. Even though his lectures and op-ed pieces could have been acts he conducted just as an individual in the past, he should have been most considerate in responding to accusations in his capacities as Prime Minister nominee, who is a public figure. Despite this, he recklessly remarked regarding his lecture at the church as if it was none of his business, saying, I have nothing to apologize for, and was not consistent in the way he reacted. Such inappropriate reactions helped escalate controversy over him to some extent.
Moons withdrawal cannot be considered to be 100 percent due to failure in preliminary verification of his qualifications, but the debacle has proven to be failure in eligibility verification and in personnel management. What the candidate, as a former journalist, said and wrote in the past is important in his assessment as Prime Minister nominee. If the presidential office failed to watch his lecture that is posted on the churchs website or countless columns that he wrote, or if the office failed to predict potential controversy and to seek ways to cope even after seeing them, it can hardly be construed as having properly reviewed the nominee. Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon, who doubles as chief presidential human resources manager, is heavily responsible for this fiasco.
A presidents power and authority largely derives from personnel management. The fact that Parks approval rating, which was in upswing after the June 4 local elections, has plunged to 40 percent level after eruption of controversy over Moons view of history, is not a coincidence at all. The Park administration ambitiously planned complete transformation of Korea as state following the Sewol ferry disaster, and has sought to pursue massive personnel reform, but it only added anxiety to the public, let alone touching the heart of people.
In the wake of Moons withdrawal of his nomination, as many as three Prime Minister nominees, including Kim Yong-joon and Ahn Dae-hee, have already been disqualified during the Park administration. Also there are a number of other ranking officials who have been disqualified as candidates or half way through their terms in office due to ethical controversy, scandals and alleged lack of eligibility. Also, candidates for top officials, for whom President Park approved submission of requests for confirmation reports to the National Assembly on Tuesday, also include a few candidates with flaws, including Kim Myung-soo, the nominee for education minister and deputy prime minister for society. We wonder how longer this administration will continue such practices of scandalous personnel management?
President Park has been criticized for so-called her diary-based personnel management, or sealed personnel management from the period of her presidential transition committee. Park should frankly reflect upon her repeated failures in personnel management, and should boldly change her existing personnel management style. By examining whether recommendations and verification of candidates are problematic or not, the president must replace her aides if it is about problem with people, or change the system if it is about problem with systems.
It would be truly ill-advised if the presidential office uses passing of verification process as the first condition for a Prime Minister nominee, just because two Prime Minister nominees have voluntarily withdrawn their nominations. In this light, it is also not desirable if the National Assembly seeks to find the next Prime Minister from among politicians. The political reasoning that the ruling and opposition parties will agree to reciprocally accept only if the nominee hails from the political circle constitutes unjust sense of companionship. The presidential office should conduct thorough advance screening of candidates and review of their eligibility even if this will take quite some time, and thus find a prime minister nominee who has the capacity to take full control of and supervise the Cabinet.