No time for political calculationsPresident Moon Jae-in was to meet President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol at the Blue House on Wednesday, but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute. Neither side gave a reason for the cancellation, except that they needed more time for working-level discussions. The fallout is being seen as a clash between the outgoing and incoming power, upsetting a smooth transition. Both Moon and Yoon called for national unity after their election victories, and yet they appear to be waging a contest of nerves.
A reconciliatory mood built up between the conservative and liberal fronts on the expectation of Moon accepting Yoon’s request to pardon former President Lee Myung-bak. In December 1997, during the meeting between President Kim Young-sam and President-elect Kim Dae-jung, the two discussed presidential pardons and the reinstatement of imprisoned presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo.
The discomfort over President-elect Yoon asking incumbent President Moon to suspend major appointments during the final months of his term killed a vital chance for cooperation. The Blue House is first at fault for throwing away the chance of welcoming Yoon in a humble admission to the ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s defeat in the presidential election.
The possibility of bundling former South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Kyung-soo, Moon’s loyalist behind bars, into a pardon for the former president also could have played a part in the cancellation of the meeting at the Blue House. In a radio interview, Rep. Kwon Seong-dong, former chief of staff for Yoon, said the Moon administration did not pardon Lee when it pardoned former President Park Geun-hye, as it wanted to package its pardoning of Lee with one for Kim. But Kim has not served long enough to be pardoned. The DP also stressed that a presidential pardon cannot have political design.
When Yoon asked the Blue House to discuss appointments to public entities, the presidential office retorted that the authority for appointments lay with the sitting president until his final day in office. If Yoon shows some respect for presidential pardons and if the Blue House can coordinate appointments for public corporations, the two could find ways to cooperate.
The collapse of the meeting shows how key aides to Yoon can hurt the reliability of the incoming administration. Kwon not only hinted at the possibility of a deal over former Governor Kim, but also pressured the current prosecutor general to resign. Such comments could be understood as Yoon’s thoughts. The DP has accused Yoon’s camp of acting as if they are occupying forces. The meeting should be free from politics. The two leaders must meet as soon as possible to ensure a better future for the country.