[EDITORIALS]What role for prime minister?Prime Minister Goh Kun, who has supervised the cabinet of the “participatory government,” stepped down after a year and three months on the job. President Roh Moo-hyun and fellow cabinet members bid him farewell with a standing ovation, but the ambience was one of unease, according to participants at the ceremony. The prime minister’s retirement moves us to reassess the role and status of cabinet members.
People may differ in their political views as to whether Prime Minister Goh did the right thing in refusing to endorse the president’s cabinet appointees and resigning. There can be criticism about whether Mr. Goh performed the role of a prime minister provided in the constitution, whether the prime minister had any real say in previous cabinet appointments or not, and whether the prime minister should have dealt a political blow to the president.
But regardless of his track record or intentions, his steady refusal to endorse the president’s cabinet appointees and stubbornness in upholding the spirit of the constitution is respectable.
We should learn a lesson from this incident, too valuable to brush aside as a one-time happening and because it came at a high social cost. President Roh has repeatedly stressed that he would lead reforms while the prime minister oversaw stable governance. But we question whether the president’s vow has been kept. Prime Minister Goh, as acting president while the presidential impeachment was in progress, did lead a stable interim government. Other than that, there is nothing to remember him by during his prime ministership. The truth is that the public saw no difference between him and the rubber-stamping prime ministers of the authoritarian regimes of the past. If a prime minister is to exercise his constitutional right to endorse cabinet appointees, the president must stand aside boldly. If he does not, the next prime minister is likely to end up as another scarecrow.
The political sector should rethink the prime minister’s role. If he is a symbolic figure with lesser powers than ministers or vice ministers, why should the National Assembly ratify his appointment? A prime minister whose qualifications have been meticulously examined should have appropriate power.