[Editorial] Don’t be fooled - Pres. Park isn’t really cleaning up her government

Posted on : 2014-05-23 11:44 KST Modified on : 2014-05-23 11:44 KST

On May 22, President Park Geun-hye selected former Supreme Court Justice Ahn Dae-hee as her nominee for prime minister. She also accepted the resignation of Nam Jae-joon, director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), and Kim Jang-soo, chief of the National Security Council.

But amidst a blizzard of staff changes, Kim Ki-choon, chief of staff for the Blue House, remains firmly in his position. This makes clear the significance - and the limitations - of Park’s efforts to carry out governmental reform.

Ahn, the nominee for the next prime minister, is known for his purity, honesty, and integrity. Park’s selection of Ahn appears to be aimed at regaining the popular support that she lost after the Sewol disaster and to secure a victory in the June 4 municipal elections.

Given the fact that Ahn and Park did not see eye to eye about the selection of Han Gwang-ok as chair of the Public Solidarity Committee during Ahn’s tenure as head of the Saenuri Party (NFP) Special Committee for Political Reform, there is some hope that Ahn could be a prime minister who will speak frankly to Park.

But even Park’s nomination of Ahn has a number of problematic aspects. First is the fact that Ahn hails from the Yeongnam region in southeastern Korea, has a legal background, and served on Park’s presidential campaign - just like nearly all of Park’s other appointees. Nothing has changed about Park’s practice of appointing people from her immediate circle based on how well she knows them.

This also clearly shows that public harmony and communication are not virtues that Park is seeking in her next prime minister. By their very nature, people with legal backgrounds wield their responsibility in a way that focuses more on initiative, follow-through, and the stern execution of public authority than on flexibility and communication. Even more troubling, with both Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon and the new prime minister being former prosecutors, it is inevitable for the prosecutors to gain an even firmer grip on power.

Appointing a former Supreme Court justice as prime minister also leaves a bad taste in our mouths, since it undermines the spirit of the division of power among the three branches of government. Ahn had already been criticized for jumping into Park’s election campaign so soon after completing his term as Supreme Court justice - in fact, it was the first thing he did. And now, he has risen to the position of nominee for prime minister.

We find ourselves concerned that Park’s appointment of Ahn as prime minister is nothing more than a bid to borrow his good reputation. In fact, that was exactly why Park appointed Ahn as the head of the Saenuri Party’s Special Committee for Political Reform before the 2012 presidential election: in order to take advantage of his upright and honest reputation to prove the party’s intention to carry out political reform, and thus escape a desperate crisis.

But in reality, no one can remember what exactly Ahn contributed to political reform. Before the election, Ahn vowed that the party’s pledge to abolish the party nomination system in the municipal elections would be kept, but President Park gave up these vows after she became president. This is why we have no choice but to fear that Ahn’s nomination as prime minister will be a repeat of his earlier service.

But what is more notable than the nomination of a new candidate for prime minister is the fact that Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon remains in office. This hints that Park’s “praetorian guard” will become even more deeply consolidated. As long as Kim remains in the Blue House, there can be no lasting changes to the hamstringing of the ruling party and the cabinet, governance based on ideological witch-hunts, and presidential micromanagement of every aspect of running the country.

Even worse, Ahn was many years junior to Kim during their time as prosecutors. This is why we find ourselves wondering whether Ahn will really be able to lock horns with his former senior colleague and make his voice heard as prime minister.

In regard to Park’s recent staff shuffle, many good things could be said about the replacement of the director of the NIS and the chief of the National Security Council. But Park’s decision to retain Kim as Blue House chief of staff is eclipsing these good decisions and showing the limitations of her efforts to clean house at the Blue House.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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