Setting a new precedentIt was rare for former and sitting presidents in Korea to have a get-together. Dissident-turned-president Kim Dae-jung made the exception: he hosted a dinner for all the surviving former presidents — Choi Kyu-ha, Chun Doo Hwan, Roh Tae-woo, and Kim Young-sam. In his memoir, Kim Dae-jung recalled how he had wished to show unity to the people and hear their wisdom over governance. Chun used to say that his life had been best under Kim.
President Moon Jae-in strictly kept his distance from the former presidents. As impeached president Park Geun-hye was behind the bars, Moon could not invite Park to a meeting. But Moon had an opportunity to meet with Lee Myung-bak. He actually invited Lee to the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics before Lee was indicted and sent to prison. But Lee was stripped of his VIP status and had to enter the opening ceremony through the general gates.
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol tried to put an end to the poor tradition by stopping at the residence of Park in Daegu where she settled upon being released from prison after a presidential pardon. They had a chat for 50 minutes.
Yoon, who had investigated and drew a grave sentencing for Park as a special investigator in the Choi Soon-sil power abuse case in 2016 later, told reporters how he had expressed “sympathy” and felt sorry about the past.
When Yoon told Park how he could not sleep after being elected president, Park advised him to work with commitment to bear the heavy burden of the presidential seat. She also told the prosecutor-turned-president to take care of his health as presidential duties require rigorous work. Her words could have been the wisdom on past governance the late president Kim sought from former presidents.
After Yoon promised to succeed meaningful works under her government, Park thanked him. The past presidents had severed and erased work of the past governments.
Yoon will become the 13th president of Korea on May 10. By cutting off former presidents, the sitting president lost the best advisers to the lonely and exclusive job. Richard Nixon who stepped down over the Watergate scandal however stayed an adviser to both conservative and liberal presidents from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton.
The sitting president must respect his predecessors as he will become a former president when the five-year presidency ends. The former presidents must also stay as neutral veterans and leave politics. We hope the Park-Yoon meeting sets a precedent.