[EDITORIALS]Blurred line of successionPresident Kim Dae-jung was unable to attend the final National Liberation Day ceremony of his presidency because of pneumonia. The presidential address was read by the prime minister designate, Chang Dae-hwan. The Blue House announced that the condition of the president is improving and that he will resume his duties from the beginning of next week. We are relieved to hear that there will be no further interruption of government work due to the president's ill health. However, the abnormal situation of a prime minister designate acting on behalf of the president as was the case at the liberation day ceremony remains a problem.
It signifies that we are not prepared to cope with national emergencies and the chain of national command is unclear. In the absence of legal provisions defining the situation under which the president is unable to perform his duties, if a prime minister designate, whose status is the subject of controversy, assumes the role of an acting president, it will create legal confusion and bring about a national crisis.
Article 71 of the constitution is the only provision that defines what to do when the president is unable to perform his duties. "If the office of the presidency is vacant or the president is unable to perform his duties for any reason, the prime minister or the member of the State Council in the order of priority as determined by the law shall act for him," it stipulates. But there is no law defining the procedure and means of power transfer. Therefore, chaos is inevitable.
The United States government is prepared with a well-defined line of succession, but Korea has no preparation for power transfer in the event of the accidental absence of the president. The anachronistic thinking that talk of an accidental absence is disrespectful to the incumbent has left the problem unsolved. Moreover, under the situation where there is no prime minister but a prime minister designate, the situation will be even more serious. Since the prime minister designate received a nomination letter from the president, it will be controversial to name either of the deputy prime ministers for economy or education to assume the duty of the acting president.
Worrying over abnormal situations is not enough. No president is free from health problems or accidents. We should prepare legal provisions to cope with an incapacitated president.