Opposition in the Blue House

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Opposition in the Blue House

At Monday’s New Year’s press conference, President Park Geun-hye announced a plan to establish a team of special advisers to support her for the remainder of her term. The idea of appointing special advisers comes from the need to listen to views from outside the Blue House and, in particular, facilitate communication with the National Assembly. That could be her first measure of “self-reform” to overcome her image as an incommunicative leader.

If Park really wants to achieve that goal, she must be careful in selecting candidates. The special advisory group’s role must not overlap with that of her senior secretaries and cabinet members. The advisers must serve as a sort of internal opposition party inside the Blue House.

The team of special advisers President Park Chung Hee recruited in the 1970s played exactly that role. Park invited a respected group of experts in various fields. Those included Park Chong-hong, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Seoul National University; Park Jin-hwan, an architect in the Saemaul Movement, a nationwide rural development campaign; and Ham Byeong-chun, an outstanding scholar in international politics.

At occasional dinners with the president, the special advisers freely talked about problems over makgeolli, Korea’s traditional rice wine. The president also had an unofficial group of professors working for him and listened to their unabashed criticisms.

Since then, past administrations have often resorted to this special advisory system. However, most of the advisers were recycled figures and played a nominal role. President Lee Myung-bak had four special advisers, including Kang Man-soo, Maeng Hyung-kyu, Lee Dong-kwan and Park Heong-joon for the economy, political affairs, media relations and social affairs, respectively. Most of them served as ministers or presidential secretaries before that. The president’s decision to rehire them as special advisers often backfired, as some of them had conflicts with senior secretaries to the president over policy issues.

President Park’s special advisers should not be “parachute appointments.” The Blue House has long been under fire because Park has been surrounded by flatterers. Senior secretaries cannot talk to their boss as openly as they should due to their vertical relations with the president, who is obviously their superior. But special advisers can theoretically speak freely because they are on a horizontal basis as equals. Everything will depend on how President Park manages the system.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 14, Page 30

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