Attacking their ownThe ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s attacks on Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki have gone beyond permissible levels. Rep. Choi In-ho, a senior spokesperson for the DP, criticized Hong for “officially refuting our party head’s speech pointing to the need for a consultative meeting between the party and government to help ease people’s sufferings [from Covid-19]” on the ministry’s internet. Choi mentioned “strong demands from DP lawmakers that Hong resign immediately.” Rep. Sul Hoon, a senior member of the DP, said the Finance Ministry is not qualified to serve as the keeper of the state coffers because Hong is ignoring the public’s pain.
DP lawmakers showed such reactions to Hong’s posting of “difficulties in accepting the party head’s proposal of both universal and selective aid to all citizens despite the need for additional disaster relief funds.” On the previous day, DP Chairman Lee mentioned the need for a fourth round of disaster relief for all people. As tension deepened, the deputy prime minister had to tearfully explain to reporters why he had made such comments on the intranet.
One can see a comedy of errors — or a tragedy. Of course, the DP can be displeased at the comments Hong made shortly after the DP head’s speech in the National Assembly. But Hong’s remarks were appropriate. The DP’s latest proposal for disaster relief calls for a whopping 20 trillion won ($17.9 billion) in extra spending, far exceeding the 14.2 trillion won for the first round of handouts, the 7.8 trillion won for the second and the 9.3 trillion for the third. On top of that, the DP is planning a law aimed at compensating business losses for the self-employed from the pandemic ahead of the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. If not Hong, who would take responsibility for the country’s fiscal integrity? He has a legal obligation to safeguard the government’s fiscal health and minimize people’s tax burden.
And yet, the DP, a party with 170 seats in the 300-member legislature, is bent on denouncing the finance minister for not siding with its every move. If the DP believes it can force Hong to surrender to its demands once again after its previous attempts, that constitutes violence.
DP lawmakers are condescendingly treating Hong as just another government official, while bragging that they are “elected officials.” Democracy thrives on the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches, not on pressure and submission. If the DP desires to compel the administration to follow its orders, how is it different from the socialist system?
President Moon Jae-in must end the conflict between the DP and Hong. When Hong submitted his resignation to Moon two times, the president did not accept it, patting the minister on his back for his “big achievements in economy recovery.” But Moon often sided with the DP instead of accepting Hong’s position. Does that reflect Moon’s trust in Hong? Time will tell.