[VIEWPOINT]Roh should have consulted partyThe governing party is in disarray. The cabinet reshuffle is the problem. The Uri Party’s chairman, Chung Sye-kyun, was nominated as the new commerce, industry and energy minister and Representative Rhyu Si-min as the new health and welfare minister. It is an unusual situation for the ruling party to oppose the president’s personnel choices. Despite the opposition from the governing party, the Blue House pushed forward the nomination of Mr. Ryu as the next minister of health and welfare on Wednesday afternoon.
In fact, the conflict between the Blue House and the governing Uri Party was a latent problem that, in a sense, had no chance to be exposed to date. The Uri Party, which was formed under the slogan of “Let’s stay for a century,” will have to elect its seventh party chairman in just over two years since its formation at its national convention next month. The average term of the party leadership, including Mr. Chung who resigned his post after 65 days in office, is only four months.
This repetition of short-lived leadership was partly due to a new political experiment the party attempted to carry out. The Uri Party is the first political party in which the president is not also the party chairman. President Roh Moo-hyun is none other than “a senior party member.” The relationship between the Blue House and the party was to be separate, and the party was to propose a political agenda autonomously to establish its own domain.
But the reality was different. The Uri Party ended up remaining a passive support force that had to back the president’s will politically. It became a governing party in name only. Along with the separation of the Blue House and the party, the spread of bottom-up nomination, the separation of the party’s right to appointment and the two leader system of a party chairman and a floor leader all contributed to the absence of party leadership. Whoever became the party leader, the same situation was bound to happen. The governing party failed to offer a new leadership that could go in line with the changing internal and external environment of the party. This failure is now exposed in the form of the cabinet reshuffle crisis.
Mr. Roh eventually maintained his original decision to have Mr. Rhyu in his cabinet. In a presidential system, cabinet ministers play the role of assisting the president while undertaking their duties. Even if ministers are selected after holding hearings at the National Assembly and based on their expertise at duties, the president’s political judgment still plays an important role in the decision.
The president suggests a framework for policy direction and the ministers support him with specific policies. Also, the cabinet just confirms the president’s will as a mere organ of consultation. When former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln discussed a certain problem in his cabinet, all cabinet members opposed his opinion. But Mr. Lincoln declared, “This proposal is passed with seven oppositions and one approval.” This shows the limits of ministers’ roles in the presidential system. The president takes the ultimate responsibility.
Here lies the reason why the Blue House, albeit embarrassed, has complained about the party’s opposition. Why, then, did Mr. Roh press ahead with the nomination although he foresaw the opposition? Above all, he seems to have built a system for his personal rule in the cabinet to prevent the phenomenon of “power leakage” or becoming a lame duck. By including his close supporters in the cabinet, he can tighten his grip on the operation of state affairs and maintain his influence in the party, based on his right to appoint the cabinet. Of course, how long Mr. Roh can prevent the phenomenon from happening is doubtful. His nomination of Mr. Rhyu could be to help him to prepare to run for the next presidential election, or the one after that.
Nevertheless, through this incident, the public came to realize once again that there are no limits to political imagination. Although it may not have been intended, both the party and the Blue House over-dramatized politics.
Furthermore, it is hard to erase the impression that the Blue House ignored the party. Even if Mr. Roh forced through his nomination, it would have been better if he first consulted with the party or listened to its opinion. It did not look good, either, that the incident happened just a day before a scheduled meeting between the party and the president at the Blue House.
In any case, because of this incident, the future of the governing party seems to be unclear. This incident is also highly likely to act as an opportunity for the party to diverge. If some of the Uri Party members view the Blue House and the government as being a political burden to the party, each side will attempt to go separate ways for their political survival.
With the local elections and presidential election ahead, the internal division of the governing party and the subsequent change in the arena of politics is worthy of note.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Myung-ho