[FORUM]Flawed Appointments Dog the President

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[FORUM]Flawed Appointments Dog the President

"Why did he choose Park Jie-won for key posts at the Blue House in the first place?" Mr. Park's resignation as senior presidential secretary for policy and planning left a big vacuum in the Kim Dae-jung administration. The vacancy looks especially big because Mr. Park's departure signals a problem in the president's personnel policies.

In the style of Mr. Kim's administration of state affairs, which is marked by psychological pressure and tension, we can find the answer to the question of why Mr. Kim gave Mr. Park an important position.

The president is obsessed with the weight of the policy issues he is addressing and with his place in history. He imbues those issues with philosophical and ideological meanings, instilling in others a sense of awe at the gravity of the issues.

President Kim intended to balance those tensions with amiable, almost tender aides. He wanted an assistant who would make him feel at ease and present new ideas and policy alternatives. In the political culture under an "imperial president," plain speaking and outspoken advice would heighten tensions, not mute them.

Mr. Park knew about Mr. Kim's work style from personal experience. Mr. Park agilely and diligently supplied information that the president needed about major issues and helped him arrive at judgements. Mr. Park made himself a loyal brain truster who Mr. Kim trusts. Mr. Park's ardor was recognized by Mr. Kim. In the world of political power, if a policy assistant gets such a reputation, high-quality information and delicate secret information will come his way. Ministers, lawmakers and business leaders will ask such a person to recommend something to the president in their stead. They will also provide him with policy ideas popular with the public and alert him to the actions of his political enemies. Those things will reinforce a policy assistant's power. And he will take the role of delivering Mr. Kim's secret instructions. Even Kwon Roh-kap, the boss of the old Donggyo-dong faction in the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, could not think of playing such a role, though he was used to a lord-and-vassal relationship.

A person who is working hard needs a friend to talk with. When an old man who easily gets angry and stubborn administers the affairs of state, witty remarks will help soothe him. Kim Han-gill, former Minister of Culture and Tourism and a novelist, excelled among presidential aides in settling serious state issues with a novelist's sensibility. He became "a student loved by a stern teacher." Mr. Park was as good at that as Mr. Kim was.

Mr. Park was at the center of state affairs, helped not only by the confidence of President Kim but also by the support of the old Donggyo-dong faction. The faction used Mr. Park as a window linking it to President Kim. Mr. Park used Donggyo-dong to shield himself from attack. Such a symbiotic relationship encouraged suspicions that they exercised too much power over the president. The importance of the Donggyo-dong's support was proven when Lee Kang-rae resigned as senior presidential secretary for political affairs early in the Kim Dae-jung administration. Even though Mr. Lee had the unqualified confidence of President Kim at one time, he was pushed out by the Donggyo-dong faction.

Favoritism causes jealousy and antagonism. If only a limited number of staff have the confidence of the president, the administration's base will be weakened. If there is suspicion that a trusted person is avaricious, antagonism will grow. Mr. Park was criticized for wanting to be the president's proxy when he influenced the unexpected appointments of Lee Sang-joo as chief of staff and Lew Seon-how as senior presidential secretary for political affairs in September.

President Kim's resignation from the MDP presidency cannot yet be called "historic" because of flaws in Blue House personnel policy. The Blue House should re-energize itself and repair relations with all parties and the bureaucracy. But the current Blue House staff is not very impressive and should be changed.

President Kim's staff should work to make his resignation from his party's presidency a significant event in our political history.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon

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