An ex-president isn’t powerless

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

An ex-president isn’t powerless

Kang Joo-an
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Many people recall the funeral ceremony of the late President Roh Moo-hyun on May 29, 2009 when they think of Moon Jae-in. At the event, former Rep. Baek Won-woo shouted at President Lee Myung-bak and demanded an apology for his death when Lee was about to lay flowers. Presidential guards held Baek. Immediately after the incident, Moon, Roh’s former chief of staff, approached Lee and apologized, triggering many people’s hopes for unity.

After nine years, Lee was confined to a detention center. It was March 22, 2018 — 10 months after President Moon took office. It was unclear whether Lee’s detention was accidental, intentional or the result of some winks and nods. But Moon did not pardon Lee.

Moon was a president-elect only briefly after winning the presidency. Because it was a snap election held shortly after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, Moon took office a day after his victory in the election on May 9, 2017. During the short period of time as president-elect, Moon made a grand promise.

At 11:43 p.m. on May 9, 2017, Moon stood on Gwanghwamun Square and promised to “hold hands of my rivals for the sake of a new Republic of Korea.” He also said, “I will be the president of unity who will serve the people who did not vote for me.” On his first day as president, Moon visited the headquarters building of the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), the predecessor of the current People Power Party (PPP).

Five years have passed. Before the end of his term, Moon met with journalists, including the Blue House press corps. Moon’s hidden feelings can be seen in his recent interview with former JTBC anchor Sohn Suk-hee, which Moon’s protocol secretary Tak Hyun-min described as a “dialogue at the highest level.” In the interview, Moon rebutted every single criticism, but could not give an answer to the anchor’s question about unity. “If the people say that I failed to overcome the political practice of creating division, I should admit it,” said Moon simply.

At his last weekly Cabinet meeting last Tuesday, Moon approved and promulgated two controversial law revisions that will completely take away investigating power from the prosecution. With the changes in the law, the Moon administration made a major change in the balance of power. To find some kind of happy medium in investigative authority between the prosecution and the police, the presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, justice minister, home affairs minister, prosecutor-general and police commissioner-general all had discussions for a long time, but their efforts were in vain. I wonder why unity has disappeared from Moon’s mind?

The interview showed that Moon was enraged at President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol and justice minister nominee Han Dong-hoon. Many questions can be answered when you take into account the outgoing president’s rage toward the two former prosecutors. His criticism of Yoon’s plan to relocate the presidential office to Yongsan is a clear example.

“As soon as the preparation is complete, I will leave the current Blue House and open the new era of the presidential office in Gwanghwamun Square,” said Moon in his inauguration office five years ago. But now, he insists that failing to keep that promise was a good decision. “If we relocate the presidential office, it will cost money and there will be administrative chaos,” he said. And yet, the website of the Moon Blue House still listed the relocation of the presidential office as a “national agenda.”

When Moon talked about Han, his language became coarse. We can imagine the sense of betrayal he must have felt when Yoon and Han — the two prosecutors he himself appointed to top posts — targeted former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, a close ally of Moon.

“It is ironic that Yoon became the candidate of another party and won the presidency,” Moon said. “Was it wrong to appoint him [as prosecutor general], or should we have done better to make him stand on our side …” His comment indicates the confusion of his thoughts.

Moon gave high scores to his own performance except on the topic of unity. He challenged critics of his income-led growth and minimum wage policies by saying, “Such an appraisal is completely wrong. Employment was largely increased and the economy grew.” Even if we accept his argument, the pledge of unity remains incomplete.

After Moon leaves the Blue House, there is little he can do as a former president. And yet, unity is one of the few things he could work at, if he wished. If he abandons the hatred toward the two former prosecutors, he can revive the spirit of unity he pledged five years ago. He also could create opportunities for change by wisely explaining difficult issues he confronted as president to politicians loyal to him.

It will be greater if he could tell his loyal supporters that true support is meant to expand their support basis, not to narrow it. His unprecedentedly high 45-percent approval rating as an outgoing president can help open up a way to unity. Moon’s tenure as a former president is nearly indefinite.
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)