The five main candidates in the presidential election
Whoever wins the presidential election on May 9, the composure of the National Assembly and its lack of a majority party will remain. The new president will also have to start his or her term immediately without setting up a transitional committee first. It‘s a scenario where a coalition is desirable and co-governance essential for governance to proceed smoothly. The political situation is also reflected in the way most of the candidates have proclaimed their own visions for “unified governance” embracing the ruling and opposition parties, as well as larger and smaller parties.
Experts agreed that while coalition politics meshes well with a parliamentary cabinet system, co-governance is not out of the question even under the current presidential system. To begin with, most hold that the current party system is one that inherently calls for co-governance. The Minjoo Party holds the most National Assembly seats with 119, which is well short of the 150 it would need for a majority. In second place is the conservative Liberty Korea Party, which would have just 107 seats after procedures to reinstate the faction that defected to the conservative Bareun Party. Even if the liberal Minjoo Party allied with the moderate People’s Party (40 seats) and left-wing Justice Party (six), which are relatively like-minded in policy terms, and the Liberty Korea Party united with the Bareun Party (20), they still wouldn’t clear the threshold of 180 seats assigned by the amended National Assembly Act for fast-track procedures.
For this reason, the major candidates have stressed “co-governance” and “unity” as major principles for the new government. In a televised speech on May 6, Minjoo Party candidate Moon Jae-in said he would view the opposition parties as governance partners.
“If elected, I will visit the opposition party headquarters that day,” he declared.
Moon has also said he would institute a public recommendation system to staff his administration across party lines and make practical guarantees on the Prime Minister’s appointment recommendation authority to strengthen joint Cabinet responsibility. Key to this is establishing an integrated Cabinet system where the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members represent different regions and political philosophies.
“Even National Assembly members from the Bareun Party could be appointed [to the Cabinet] if they agree individually with the reform agenda,” said Park Young-sun, head of the united government pursuit committee for Moon‘s election committee.
People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo has also suggested a “joint reformist government” including everyone except opponents of Park Geun-hye‘s impeachment and “factional hegemonists.” His vision centers on appointing a Prime Minister recommended by the National Assembly and decentralizing presidential authority by downscaling the presidential secretariat and doing away with the Office of the Senior Secretary to the President for Civil Affairs. Ahn’s declaration - that he would “co-rule with all reasonable reformists besides opponents of the impeachment and factional hegemonists” - has been seen as sending the message that he also plans to embrace Liberty Korea Party lawmakers who supported the impeachment and anti-Moon members of the Minjoo Party. On May 4, he singled out Bareun Party candidate Yoo Seong-min, Justice Party candidate Shim Sang-jung, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil, and South Chungcheong Gov. Ahn Hee-jung as “people capable of joining in helping South Korea move forward.”
Liberty Party Korea candidate Hong Joon-pyo’s plan involves setting up a Cabinet with a “dream team for fixing our crisis and setting the country right.” The message is that he plans to prioritize ability and morality in choosing a Cabinet, while assigning full authority to his Prime Minister. But the “unity” aspect of Hong’s united government vision remains unclear for now - as seen with his May 8 remarks that plans to appoint former Gyeonggi Gov. Kim Moon-soo as Minister of Labor and former 1st ROK Army Commander Park Jung-i as Minister of National Defense.
While the leading candidates have pledged to pursue co-governance, a potential stumbling block is the lack of any preliminary discussions among the parties, with this year’s election hastened by the ouster of the last president (Park Geun-hye). This means no party negotiations before the election to reach an agreement on the level of joint administration - or even on policy alliances. Another urgent concern to be addressed before any co-governance after the election will be bridging the emotional gap, with hard feelings emerging between the parties over intensifying mudslinging among the frontrunners and last minute appeals not to waste votes.
By Lee Se-young and Kim Nam-il, staff reporters
Please direct questions or comments to [firstname.lastname@example.org]