Beware the republic of prosecutorsPresident Yoon Suk-yeol’s repeated appointments to high government posts from a pool of former prosecutors sounds alarms. Despite his preference of “people with confirmed ability to do their job,” a growing number of people express concerns about the president’s focus on his former colleagues in the top law enforcement agency.
On Friday, Yoon appointed Cho Sang-joon, former deputy chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office, as head of the Planning and Coordination Office of the National Intelligence Service, and Park Sung-keun, a prosecutor at the same prosecutors’ office, as head of the secretariat of the prime minister. But given Cho’s past role as a lawyer for the president’s wife in a case surrounding her profits from alleged stock price manipulation, his appointment raises doubts.
The president already provoked controversy after appointing former prosecutors to top positions in his Cabinet. His selection of senior prosecutor Han Dong-hoon, a close ally, as justice minister, in particular, triggered conflict. Lee Wan-kyu, who has been appointed as minister of government legislation, was a lawyer defending Yoon when he was briefly suspended as prosecutor general in 2020.
Key posts in the presidential office are also taken up by prosecutors. Lee Si-won, in charge of checking discipline for government officials, is a former prosecutor at the Suwon District Prosecutors’ Office. Such cases are nearly endless. You can hardly find fault with a president appointing his close aides during the campaign to key posts in the government. But what counts most is their qualifications as top officials, not their past connections with the president. Yoon’s lopsided appointment style cannot earn public trust. If the president appoints one of his former colleagues as head of the Fair Trade Commission, who would accept the decision?
Another problem involves Yoon picking his school friends for major positions in his administration. For instance, his National Security Advisor Kim Sung-han was a classmate at elementary school and Kim Yong-hyun, chief of the Presidential Security Office, is an alumnus of the high school Yoon graduated from. Lee Sang-min, minister of the interior and safety, also graduated from the Seoul National University College of Law as Yoon did.
Personnel affairs matter. The success of the Yoon administration depends on how qualified the people he recruits to run his government smoothly and effectively are. We hope the president uses a large talent pool established by the Ministry of Personnel Management instead of drawing criticism for trying to revive a “republic of prosecutors,” as opponents sarcastically call it.