Blatantly politicalThe Blue House announced yesterday that it will accept Justice Minister Kim Sung-ho’s resignation.
It is the president’s right to replace a minister that he had appointed. The minister can step down at will, too.
But when it comes to the replacement of Minister Kim, the background is suspicious and the timing doesn’t seem right. For a long time there were rumors that Minister Kim would be replaced because he has had conflicts with major figures in power.
Cheon Ho Seon, the spokesman for the Blue House, denied that the minister had been forced to resign. But Cheon said it was hard to say whether he was fired or not. That means Kim did not step down of his own accord.
Minister Kim tended to say things in support of Korean companies. For example, he said companies that voluntarily confess to window-dressing their own accounts should be spared criminal punishment. He also said laws and regulations that damage the economy should be reformed.
He was one of the few members of the administration who understood the market economy. But this is why he was at odds with major figures in the administration who used to be student democracy movement activists and later entered the spheres of power.
In a country with a presidential system, ministers with opinions different from the president’s can always be replaced.
But the replacement of Minister Kim is blatantly political. When President Roh Moo-hyun filed a claim that the law requiring civil servants to remain politically neutral was unconstitutional, Minister Kim said in the National Assembly that he did not think the law was unconstitutional.
Minister Kim recently opposed suggestions that the Seoul District Court should handle the case involving a Grand National presidential candidate. He argued the investigation must be stopped if the person who filed the lawsuit withdraws from the case.
In Korea, power is concentrated with the president, so the people believe that the president must remain neutral during elections. Both the ruling and opposition parties agreed and made this the basis of election law.
As the election is drawing near, the composition of the cabinet must be neutral. At the core of the cabinet lie the minister of justice and the minister of government administration and home affairs.
But President Roh goes against this flow. The president replaced the justice minister who argued that civil servants must remain politically neutral for elections. If the president intended to show his desire to influence the election with this move, then the future of democracy in this country is threatened.