Han’s unenviable job

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Han’s unenviable job

President Park Geun-hye appointed Han Gwang-ok, chairman of the Presidential Committee for National Cohesion, as her new chief of staff on Thursday. Given the gravity of the crisis at the Blue House, Han has to tackle daunting challenges. His appointment was made after Park’s leadership has been utterly shaken by JTBC’s bombshell revelations about the unprecedented abuse-of-power scandal involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil.

Han, a former chief of staff under the liberal Kim Dae-jung administration and chairman of the Democratic Party, played a key role in fielding a single candidate between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil in the 1997 presidential election. He also helped achieve the grand compromise among workers, employers and the government in the following year. A seasoned politician hailing from Jeolla province who can closely communicate with the opposition camp, Han is seen as a reasonable choice by Park.

But the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and splinter opposition People’s Party denounced Park for appointing her new chief of staff without any consultation with them even while she keeps mum over ever-deepening suspicions about Choi’s brazen intervention in state affairs.

The public has a strong antipathy toward the president’s alleged misconduct. Han must ensure that the president makes clear what really happened between her and Choi as soon as possible and urge the president to declare that she will fully cooperate with a prosecutors’ investigation. That’s the most urgent job for him.

Considering that the president will likely step back after a new prime minister takes charge of administering domestic affairs, Han’s role will be more important than ever. He must serve as a messenger between the presidential office and the government, while minimizing confrontations between the ruling and opposition parties. That’s why he must closely communicate with the president and the opposition camp. The day the presidential office cannot get support from the opposition, the government’s functioning stops.

As the president’s approval rating nosedived to a single digit, Han must talk to Park in a straightforward manner and put an end to her characteristic stubbornness. Han’s predecessors, including former prosecutor general Kim Ki-choon, didn’t take that path and failed to check the president’s shadowy aides. If Han follows in their footsteps, Korea goes adrift. The nation and the president desperately need a forthright chief of staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 4, Page 30
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