Stop the interventionEven before the presidential race has gotten into full swing, a senior government official is being investigated for possibly violating the Public Official Election Law. The National Election Commission asked the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office to look into whether First Vice Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Park Jin-kyu ordered subordinates to devise campaign platforms for the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party (DP). In a meeting with senior ministry officials in August, Park reportedly instructed them to develop attractive presidential promises for the ruling party before its candidates set up their campaigns.
After the controversy erupted, President Moon Jae-in vowed to hold the senior official accountable for a “very inappropriate act.” The opposition People Power Party (PPP) claimed that Vice Minister Kim also instructed mid-level officials to develop policy platforms for the party in a meeting in July. In a confirmation hearing on Tuesday for the new head of the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), PPP lawmakers stressed the need for the government watchdog to “oversee such practices in all ministries and agencies.”
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum hurriedly sent a letter to all civil servants demanding they maintain political neutrality. But he stopped short of pledging to punish such officials for the violation of the election law. The Office of the Prime Minister also plans to present a booklet on the achievements and challenges of the Moon administration to presidential candidates of both parties. The prime minister must stop it immediately as it apparently can help DP candidate Lee Jae-myung more than the PPP’s candidate, who will be determined later this week.
Lee Jae-myung’s pressure on the finance ministry to push for a third round of universal relief grant also provokes controversy. In his first meeting on Wednesday with his campaign staff, Lee asked the DP to press ahead with the grants, brushing off concerns about the rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio since the launch of the liberal administration in 2017 and particularly since the breakout of the pandemic last year. Despite worries about our fiscal health, the prime minister could end up backing down.
The PPP is demanding the government stop meddling in the election. Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, a PPP candidate, denounced the government for “orchestrating methodical support for Lee by mobilizing all available means.” Hong also demanded a neutral cabinet be set up before the Mar. 9 presidential election. If the government intervenes in elections, it can destroy faith in our hard-earned democracy. President Moon and Prime Minster Kim, both former democracy fighters, should know that more than anyone else.