‘How’ matters more than ‘who’According to a Roman saying, “A fish rots from the head down.” The Sung Wan-jong list includes former and current Blue House chiefs of staff as well as the prime minister. Naturally, Koreans are frustrated and angry over such a pathetic situation. However, we may want to consider a more fundamental prescription for political reform beyond a prosecutor’s investigation. We need to look at the Sung Wan-jong scandal from a different perspective.
First of all, Sung may have had little presence on the central political scene, but he was well connected in the Chungcheong region.
“The Seosan Scholarship Foundation has more than 20,000 recipients, and the Chungcheong Forum is a solid organization,” say ruling and opposition party insiders who oversaw national-level election campaigns. “Who wouldn’t be tempted by his money and organization? Anyone vying for votes in the Chungcheong region would not skip Sung Wan-jong.”
This is why both the ruling and opposition party are closely watching the prosecutors’ investigation.
Also, we need to look at where Sung mostly spent his money. Presidential and general election campaigns have become clean, and under the strict supervision of the National Election Commission (NEC), campaign financing is fully provided by the national treasury. But two blind spots remain: the presidential primaries and party chairman election. They are left to the autonomy of the political parties while the National Election Commission is entrusted with the voting and ballot counting process.
But domestic feuds tend to be fiercer. In 2007, the primary between Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye was far more intense than the presidential election. The party chairman election is a showdown over nomination authority. Election camps are set up in Yeouido, and nationwide party organizations are fully operational. Realistically, these processes involve tremendous amounts of money, but no state subsidies are provided. The discrepancy has to be filled by the camp “arbitrarily,” and “dark money” could penetrate there. This is the secret to Sung Wan-jong’s concentrated dispersal of funds on party primaries and party chairman elections.
Political reform which neglects such an environment that requires additional sources of money would be futile. The winner of the election has to repay the benefactors with lobbying and favors. This is what Sung called a “trust-based relationship.” In order to end this practice, society has to pay the cost. For the long run, the party primary and chairman elections could be completely entrusted to the NEC. Or the NEC could supplement primary expenses with corporate and institutional donations. It is far more economical than the social cost associated with illegal lobbying.
Aside from the medium to long-term prescriptions, a desperate task is the appointment of the next prime minister. President Park Geun-hye is said to be sick after a 12-day trip to South America. The cause may not be her overseas schedule. The monster troubling the mental and physical health of the president may be the choice of the next prime minister.
“Frankly, we are not confident,” a Presidential Secretary’s Office source said, with a sigh, “Candidates mostly turn down the offer when contacted.”
“The Office of Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs verifies qualifications thoroughly, but no one knows where flaws may emerge” the source added.
The prime minister nomination has become Procrustes’s bed. Procrustes either stretches, or amputates limbs from, the body of a guest who does not fit his bed. President Park’s chronic “mysticism” also is a problem. If she announces her nomination, people would speculate how much her “three confidants” got involved or if the choice was influenced by the Group of Eight or former Park aide Chung Yoon-hoi, who covertly influenced and intervened in the affairs of state. And the next prime minister could turn into a malignant political tumor and torment the second half of Park’s administration.
It is far more important how the nomination is made than who is actually nominated. How about if she tries a new experiment of nomination by committee, even if it takes longer? It is cowardly and against the principles of the presidential system to hand over nomination authority to the opposition. How about seeking advice from respected leaders, such as former prime ministers, to develop a pool of nominees from which the president can choose? If the experiment succeeds, it could be established as a permanent system. It is a political luxury to obsess over the appointment right as the unique authority of the president. Korean society wishes to have a qualified and competent prime minister for once. We desperately need a resolute decision by the president.JoongAng Ilbo, April 28, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho