Paving the way to cooperation
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
One of the first things President Moon Jae-in did after entering the Blue House in May 2017 was visit the headquarters of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), the predecessor of today’s United Future Party (UFP). Moon promised the LKP’s floor leader Chung Woo-taik he would perceive the LKP as his “statecraft companion.” It was a smart move for a president who was thirsty for cooperative governance — yet their amicable relationship only lasted 37 days, until Moon rammed through the appointment of Kang Kyung-wha as his foreign minister. That’s when his vow for cooperation began to fade.
In November 2018, signs of cooperation seemed to rekindle when Moon invited the leaders of opposition parties to the Blue House and pledged to create a standing consultative body between opposition parties, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and administration in order to discuss state affairs. That lasted a single week.
The biggest reason why Moon failed to cooperate with opposition lawmakers lays in his intransigent personnel decisions. To this day, Moon has appointed 23 minister-level officials, including former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, despite the fact that the National Assembly had not adopted a confirmation hearing report for any of them due to disapproval from opposition lawmakers; that’s already far more than 10 such officials in the Park Geun-hye administration and 17 in the Lee Myung-bak administration. Moon has been peculiarly obstinate in his personnel choices, and the more he ignored voices from the other side of the political aisle, the more it became difficult for him to cooperate with them.
On July 16 as he was giving a speech at the 21st National Assembly opening ceremony, Moon returned to the subject of cooperative governance, saying it was pertinent for the parliament to “rise above the politics of confrontation and hostility and usher in an era of cooperative governance,” suggesting the tripartite standing consultative meetings should be resumed.
But I’m not holding my breath – and my recent encounter with a core member of the DP solidified my conviction that Moon’s cooperative governance will founder this time as well.
During our conversation, I brought up Lee In-young, who at the time was Moon’s nominee for unification minister and had not gone through his parliamentary confirmation hearing process. Opposition lawmakers were furiously opposed to his credentials, so I asked the DP member, “Will something happen to him?” The source briskly responded, “He will be appointed no matter what.” Both Foreign Minister Kang and Kim, Moon’s former chief policy secretary, instantly flashed through my mind. It was in that moment that I realized Moon has not changed one bit.
So it wasn’t a surprise that Moon not only appointed Lee as unification minister, but also Park Jie-won as director of the National Intelligence Service, despite the fact that the latter had also faced a storm of criticism from opposition lawmakers on accusations he facilitated a backdoor agreement between the South and North Korean governments and forged his college degree. Is Moon not aware that his personnel decisions will spoil any chance of achieving cooperative governance? Has he not considered any sort of remedy to mend the ruptures between the UFP?
As the DP controls 176 out of 300 seats in the legislature, standing committees are run more like consultative meetings between the DP and Moon administration, and National Assembly general meetings seem more like a general meeting of the DP. Nowhere can cooperative governance be seen in this picture. The DP, which is supposed to guide Moon closer to cooperative governance, is dragging him farther behind. A DP lawmaker who considers himself an outlier in the party told me recently with a heavy sigh, “Democracy is not about monopolizing. If apartment prices do not go down even after these real estate laws have been passed, [the DP] will have to claim full accountability. [The party] should cooperate [with other parties] at difficult times like this.”
Two former National Assembly speakers provide food for thought. “Cooperative governance is not about sticking your hand out first and telling the other person to come to you. It’s about being considerate of others and making concessions,” Chung Sye-kyun, who now serves as prime minister, once said. “[The ruling party] only has one year to use the excuse it can’t get anything done because the main opposition party is blocking its way,” Chung’s predecessor, Moon He-sang, mentioned.
No matter how messed up the UFP currently is, it’s the DP’s responsibility to grab their hand and pave the way. Despite bleak prospects, it’s my hope that Moon will finally comes to his senses.