[EDITORIALS]Ridiculing the Prime Minister's Office

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[EDITORIALS]Ridiculing the Prime Minister's Office

Sharp comments that a prime minister is actually no more than a figurehead or a master of ceremonies has become a hot topic. The harsh remark is from a book entitled, "The Best Prime Minister and the Worst Prime Minister," written by Chung Doo-un, vice spokesman of the opposition Grand National Party, who worked in the office of the prime minister 15 years. In the book, he wrote about 18 successive prime ministers with whom he had been acquainted and insisted that the office of prime minister is useless. Even if we take into consideration that a prime minister's role is inevitably limited under the presidential system, we cannot help laughing at the ridiculous episodes he writes about.

His criticism should be the start of a serious reconsideration of the status of prime minister.

The Constitution and the National Government Organization Act provide that a prime minister assist the president and control administrative branches. The argument that Korea's current power system has some features of a parliamentary cabinet system is based on a prime minister's right of control over the cabinet.

One year has passed since Prime Minister Lee Han-dong, who has called himself a "prime minister for public welfare" or a "prime minister for administration," took office. Since he limited his role himself, he may be excused for errors.

But there is strong criticism that he has not performed his duty as prime minister to solve a number of political and social problems. Even the scandal of Ahn Dong-su, the former justice minister who served the shortest-ever term, could have been prevented if Mr. Lee had exercised sufficiently his right of nomination of ministers, according to the Constitution.

Mr. Lee's role is more ambiguous than any other prime minister in history because he assumed office under the mantle of the coalition of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats. President Kim Dae-jung's philosophy of administration is far from that held by Mr. Lee, who came from the United Liberal Democrats. A new definition of a prime minister's function is desperately needed.

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