General Kim, please behave
Kim Moo-sung has been serving as the chairman of the Saenuri Party for 100 days now. He is a leader who draws attention in many ways. He is the head of the ruling party and a likely candidate for the next presidential election.
He also has extensive experience with the party and in the government, having served as Blue House secretary for civil affairs; secretary for audit and inspection; vice interior minister; chairman of the National Assembly’s House Steering Committee and Strategy and Finance Committee; a five-term lawmaker; the opposition party’s secretary general; and an executive of the Council for the Promotion of Democracy. Aside from former party chief Lee Hoi-chang, no other politician has such a long resume.
He should display an exceptional sense of responsibility as a leader. He has to think about everything on a national level, review the pros and cons, while respecting the administrative system and law and order.
But his conduct has led to considerable concerns. The controversy over his remark on the constitutional amendment is a notable case. It’s not news that the five-year single-term presidency has certain shortcomings, and many have called for a constitutional amendment. But the leader of the ruling party should act differently. The ruling party leader is one of the three axes of the national administration, along with the president and the prime minister. His influence is different from other lawmakers or citizens.
However, he did not act prudently. He repeatedly mentioned the subject not at home, but abroad. Kim has said that the discussion about a constitutional amendment will “explode” after the regular National Assembly session, and he personally prefers the Austrian model of a federal chancellor as the head of government and a federal president as head of state. His comment stirred commotion. The opposition called for a constitutional amendment, and the ruling party remained divided. Citizens grew anxious and distrustful as the chaos expanded.
Is the ruling party chief being responsible by mentioning a constitutional amendment? President Park Geun-hye is worried that the hasty discussion of a constitutional amendment would swallow up all other administrative issues.
Her concern is reasonable. Urgent tasks include economic recovery, pension reform for civil servants, a government organization reshuffle and the North Korea issue. In order to resolve these challenges, the government and ruling party need to work together and avoid unnecessary confrontation with the main opposition party. The only year with no election is 2015. The ruling party must focus on economic and security issues at this time.
As an axis of the national administration, has Kim contemplated these issues? Even if a discussion for a constitutional amendment is needed, has he contemplated why it has to “explode” at the end of the year? Why not focus on urgent issues next year and discuss the constitutional amendment after the general election in April 2016?
A constitutional amendment will change the framework of the state. Is he confident that the Austrian system is appropriate for Korea? In the Austrian system, the federal president is in charge of foreign policy and defense, while the federal chancellor oversees internal affairs. The president is elected by the citizens, while the chancellor is elected by the National Assembly. This system is used in many European countries, but it does not mean it will work for Korea.
Korea’s situation is different in terms of its political, social and defense environment. Ideological and regional confrontation is serious, and North Korea is a grave security variable. The North Korean factor, ideology and alliance are deeply associated with both foreign and domestic affairs. Let’s imagine that we adopt the system. Are the fliers that were launched by civic groups to North Korea a national defense issue or internal affairs issue? Is the mad cow scare from 2008 a diplomatic issue or a domestic issue? Because the chancellor is in charge of domestic affairs, will opponents save the president from accountability when there is a major incident like the Sewol ferry tragedy?
What if the president and the chancellor come from different parties? In the case of the Sewol tragedy, which paralyzed state affairs, will the country function properly if the president and the chancellor have different positions? Who will lead the nation when North Korea suddenly collapses? If they have different North Korea policies, how will reunification be attained?
Kim’s scolding of the defense minister was also inappropriate. In August, after it had been discovered that a military conscript had been beaten to death in April, Kim presided over a party leadership meeting and called Defense Minister Han Min-koo. He severely reproached the minister, striking the desk four times. He acted like a teacher scolding a pupil.
It is inappropriate for a ruling party leader to treat a defense minister like that. The defense minister is a cabinet member and a constitutional institution himself. But a “ruling party” is not a concept defined by the constitution. A party is merely a political group of citizens.
According to the constitutional system, the National Assembly, not a political party, has the authority to reproach a cabinet member. It should have been the chairman of the National Assembly Committee on National Defense, not the ruling party leader.
A consultation between the government and ruling party is customary. If the party wants to reproach a cabinet member, it should not be seen by the citizens. The Minister of Defense is the commander of 600,000 servicemen and women, and his dignity must be protected. Koreans have seen many presidential hopefuls who put their political interests before the nation. So those who imagine Kim as the president must question if his actions and comments are appropriate for the nation. Kim’s nickname is “General Kim.” But a true general puts the nation first.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 22, Page 31
The author is the editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin