Needed: a decent prime ministerChoi Kyung-hwan, deputy prime minister for the economy and a third-ranking official in the administration, grabbed the gavel at a cabinet meeting yesterday as President Park Geun-hye travelled in Latin America to drum up business. That explicitly showed a government in crisis after Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, the second most powerful person in the administration, offered to resign for taking money from a construction tycoon and former lawmaker.
In Peru, the second stop on her 12-day trip overseas, the president urged members of her cabinet and presidential office to do their best to prevent the scandal hampering economic recovery. To do that, she must minimize the power vacuum by swiftly nominating a new prime minister - even before her return home on April 27. That’s the only way to tighten discipline among corrupt officialdom, gain some impetus for economic revitalization and carry out labor and civil service pension reforms.
The problem is who to pick. Top priority must be placed on morality and ethics. Prime Minister Lee had to step down only 12 days after the bribery scandal broke due to flip-flops and out-and-out lies about his connections with Sung Wan-jong, the dead business magnate at the center of the payoff scandal, as much as the allegation that he received 30 million won ($27,714) from him. Lee’s insulting sophistry only triggered public outrage over his lack of dignity and integrity.
Another qualification for a prime minister is a dedication to reform. The list found in Sung Wan-jong’s pocket after he hanged himself, which details the names of eight people who allegedly received money from him, demonstrates how important it is to carry out political reform in the third year of the president’s five-year single term. The challenge calls for a statesman capable of reading the demands of the people and capturing the zeitgeist of the day with a reform-oriented mindset. That means the president must find a candidate beyond his or her regional, factional and political backgrounds. She can not stick to the limited pool of talents whom she knows and trusts.
The names of several pro-Park legislators are already on a list of candidates for prime minister. However, picking any one with a strong affiliation with the president will surely backfire as it will weaken the base of her power, not to mention frustrate the public. Park must learn the lessons of her repeated appointment fiascoes. We hope the president nominates a genuinely qualified prime ministerial candidate this time.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 22, Page 30