Dishonor all aroundAfter the confirmation motion for prime ministerial nominee Lee Wan-koo was passed yesterday at the National Assembly, he became Korea’s 43rd prime minister. It is fortunate that the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) reversed its earlier position and cast their votes at the last minute to avoid a unilateral approval by the ruling Saenuri Party. It is also commendable that the legislature has wrapped up the confirmation hearing according to the law. However, all the ballyhoo in the run-up to the approval laid bare critical flaws in our appointment systems, some shameful lapses of ethics among those seeking high-profile government positions and plenty of mudslinging.
First of all, Lee suffered colossal damage to his reputation. We wonder if he really can perform the role of prime minister now. A former governor of South Chungcheong and a third-term lawmaker, Lee has been a respected official dedicated to his role as a competent administrator. As it turned out, though, his life was full of enigmas, as seen in unexplained suspicions over his real estate dealings, suspected draft dodging and alleged plagiarism in his doctoral thesis. Moreover, he clearly demonstrated hubris over his ability to sway the media. Though he ultimately passed the test, Lee must remember he has not dispelled public distrust. We hope he humbly accepts lawmakers’ criticisms and does his best by constantly reminding himself that this is his final public duty.
The Blue House didn’t keep its promise to thoroughly examine the qualifications of its top officials. Even the establishment of the Ministry of Personnel Management failed to make a difference.
The opposition is not victorious either. Lawmakers from the NPAD repeated their earlier practice of questioning every aspect of the nominee’s life with insulting remarks without raising issues of substance, such as how to solve the dilemma of “welfare without tax hikes” or fix our low birth rate. Examination of Lee’s thinking was overshadowed by attacks on his past. We wonder if such a confirmation hearing is really worth holding.
An ominous specter of regionalism also surfaced. Voters in Chungcheong province threatened to retaliate against opposition lawmakers in the next general election if Lee, who hails from the region, failed to get confirmed. Such disgraceful attitudes must not be tolerated. Some media outlets should be accountable for leaking Lee’s “off-the-record” remarks to the opposition. With the hearing over, it’s time to gather our collective wisdom to fix all the problems it exposed.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 17, Page 26.