[INSIGHT]Last chance for glory or trouble

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[INSIGHT]Last chance for glory or trouble

A spell of misjudgment has fallen on the Blue House again. The first thing it should have done after the confirmation of prime minister nominee Chang Sang fell through was acknowledge its mistake, express its regret and show its acceptance of the National Assembly's decision. The next thing it should have done was to reprimand those whose negligence during the preliminary examination of the prime minister nominee caused such confusion in the administration and embarrassment to the president.

There is no doubt that the National Assembly's rejection of Ms. Chang reflected the general opinion of the people. A poll survey by Hankyoreh Shinmun showed 48 percent of the respondents approving the rejection while only 38 percent opposing it.

There was no significant difference between the men and the women who answered, showing that the matter of Ms. Chang's gender was not a major issue. The "no" votes by a significant number of Millennium Democrats suggest that neither was this a partisan battle.

But the Blue House expressed "poignant regret" over the rejection and President Kim said it was "lamentable." Had they not considered the chance that such a reaction might appear to be contrary to the National Assembly's decision and public opinion? What is even more incomprehensible is that the Blue House is insisting on appointing another acting prime minister, a solution that even the president himself once said was unconstitutional, instead of appointing one of the two deputy prime ministers as an interim prime minister until the nominee gets the Assembly's approval. The Blue House's action almost seems spiteful, as if to show that the National Assembly has left a hole in the administration by rejecting Ms. Chang. Rumors that the president is considering another woman nominee seem to show his stubbornness, but that cannot be helpful to a president with less than six months in office and two sons in prison.

The biggest tasks that the administration has in the remainder of its term are to rebuild people's confidence in the government and look after the affairs of the state in a more or less stable manner. It is doubtful that the president has the strength left to personally attend to these tasks, so the only practical hope is to appoint a "good" prime minister and let him or her lead the job.

Seen this way, the most important thing is finding the right person to pull this country through the recent chaos regardless of whether it is a man or a woman or a close ally of the president.

It would be foolish at this point to put the historical significance of appointing the first woman prime minister above the urgent task of finding the right prime minister. No longer should the president insist on appointing his person, his style and his way.

The administration should not hesitate to look for the next prime minister in the neutral zone or even the opposition. In fact, only when a person who has been pointing out the mistakes of the Kim Dae-jung administration and demanding corrections steps in can any such corrections be expected to happen. An invisible and obedient prime minister such as those appointed in the past is not going to help. The following three things must be guaranteed for the office of the prime minister to function properly in these hard times toward the close of the administration.

First, the prime minister must be given considerable power. More power must be entrusted in the prime minister if he or she is expected to sweep away all the corruption and create a new atmosphere in the public service.

Second, the prime minister should be allowed to have his or her own team. The constitutional right of the prime minister to recommend candidates for the cabinet and to propose the removal of cabinet members must be protected. A person that allows the Blue House to choose his or her own staff and lets the former prime minister recommend candidates for his cabinet has neither the qualifications nor the aspiration to become prime minister.

Third, the principle that the prime minister will offer no protection for any power-riding corrupt deeds must be firmly established from the beginning. This would pave the way for more decisiveness and promptness in dealing with indicted influence peddlers, including the family members of the president.

Without the assurance of these three points, the new prime minister will be nothing but another puppet.

President Kim Dae-jung should guarantee these three things if he wants to appoint a prime minister who might give some hope to a lame-duck administration that seems to have more misfortunes than glory down the road.


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The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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