The best choiceDebunking all the ridicule and skeptics as well as the pre-election polls, outspoken outsider Donald Trump became the 45th U.S. president in a stunning triumph over veteran politician Hillary Clinton.
What kind of a president will he make? The Boston Globe in April carried a fake front page on its Sunday “Idea” section to warn readers of a future under the leadership of Trump. The headline on one imaginary day in April 2017 reads “Deportations to Begin,” with Trump announcing to the nation that immigrants would be deported “so fast your head will spin.” One of his campaign promises was to kick out 11.3 million illegal workers.
After Trump won, thousands protested in U.S. cities. Markets crashed over the possibility of trade wars after Trumpe raised the idea of putting tariffs of 45 percent and 35 percent respectively on exports from China and Mexico. Korean and other Asian stock markets took the U.S. election result quite personally and shares crashed.
We dare not imagine how bad things could become. But what is evident is that the world’s political, economic, foreign and security realms have become more unpredictable than ever. This bodes very badly for South Korea. If Trump stays true to his campaign promises, Seoul must brace itself for a renegotiation of its bilateral free trade agreement with the United States and a spike in the cost of having U.S. troops in this land.
Korea is without leadership at such a critical and turbulent time. Whether it be a nonpartisan cabinet or a prime minister acting on behalf of the disgraced president, we must install a responsible leader fast. Politicians would be doing a very big disservice to the country and the economy if they do nothing except blame the dysfunctional president.
If a new prime minister is appointed to run the government in lieu of President Park Geun-hye, he or she will do so for just a year before the election. That is why rival parties cannot easily agree on a choice of prime minister. Their political math comes before the national interests. The Minjoo Party is split on whether the candidate must or must not be close to Moon Jae-in, the frontrunner among opposition presidential candidates. The splinter People’s Party is also picky about the choice. But we cannot afford to lose any more time to such political wrangling. If the opposition wastes more time, the public will lose patience with the legislature, giving the president a chance to restore her fortunes — which would be the worst way forward.
Who is then eligible to be prime minister? Kim Byong-joon, former policy adviser to liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, was actually a good choice. It’s pity that Park tried giving him the job because that disqualifies him now.
A good candidate must qualify in four ways. First of all, the new prime minister must not be indebted to any political party. Second, he or she must have sensitivity and experience in administration. Third, he or she needs to have guts, conviction and a vision to push forward. Fourth, he or she needs to be well versed in economic affairs.
Kim Chong-in, who was recruited from outside to reform and head the Minjoo Party during hard times, would meet all these conditions. Kim was used and abandoned by both President Park and opposition leader Moon Jae-in. Therefore, Kim would side with neither. At least the people believe so. He served as senior secretary for economic affairs and headed a major political party. He led a campaign to secure the main opposition a majority in the legislature. He was the architect of the economic campaign platform that helped Park win the presidential election. He saw through and delivered on what the people needed.
The new prime minister most of all needs conviction and fortitude to stay independent from both the president, who remains the legitimate head of the state, and the legislature that put him or her in the position. We need a good war commander. Kim does not kowtow to anyone.
He saw through the president’s strategy in naming a prime minister from the liberal camp and then giving the authority to appoint a new one to the legislature. We need that kind of brain as the new cabinet chief.
The economy is most crucial. The global economy faces unprecedented turmoil. We need to defend whatever we can on the economic front to ensure the success of the next administration. The new cabinet leader must place the interests of the nation before politics. He or she should be capable of engaging both the liberals and conservatives. Kim’s economic agenda balancing between growth and distribution had the support of both liberals and conservatives.
I have never met the veteran politician. I do not agree with his political direction or sentiments. I just hope one thing about Korean politics. I plead for a leader who can remove all the political risks and uncertainties. If not for the bombshells of the Choi Soon-sil scandal and the Trump triumph, I would never forthrightly point to one man. For now, Kim Chong-il is the best answer.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 10, Page 34
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.