A suspicious resignationCho Hai-ju, standing commissioner of the National Election Commission (NEC), has offered to resign with six months left in his term. Upon appointment in early 2018, he was questioned over his neutrality because of his career as an aide to President Moon Jae-in when he ran for president in 2017.
A standing commissioner is the sole permanent member in the nine-member commission and is responsible for its management and organization. The ministerial post is appointed by the president and undergoes legislative confirmation. Cho discreetly handed in his resignation to the Blue House without consulting other commissioners.
When other commissioners asked about his departure, Cho told them he had submitted his resignation to give his successor time to learn the job before the March 9 presidential election next year. More questions arose for the motive behind his sudden resignation. How could Cho know whether his successor would need time to familiarize themselves with the work when the appointment is up to the president?
Cho was not fit for the job in the first place. He served as Moon’s special adviser during his presidential campaign. But Moon bypassed the legislative confirmation for his appointment. Under Cho’s management, the NEC’s neutrality had been repeatedly questioned.
During the April 15 parliamentary elections last year, the NEC prohibited the use of a certain party name and campaign slogans of the opposition party while allowing the ruling party’s use of sensational slogans. During the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan, whose posts had become vacant due to sex scandals of former mayors, the NEC banned civilian groups from reminding voters why the by-election was being held.
The NEC has never been so methodically swept up in the fairness question. The resignation of Cho may lead to more suspicions.
The NEC is due to make a regular appointment in December. With six months left in his term, Cho could hardly wield much influence over the reorganization of the commissioners who would oversee the upcoming elections. Therefore, if a new standing commissioner is appointed before December, he or she could effectively influence the reshuffle. Given such concerns, Cho must finish his term so as not to stoke suspicion. The NEC appointment must be made independently by the secretary general’s office. The next standing commissioner also must be a figure of political neutrality.