Toppling the president from his throne

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Toppling the president from his throne

To end Korea's "imperial presidency," as well its inherent abuses, government ministries and agencies should be made more independent of the nation's executive branch.

In particular, specialists say, the office of the prosecutor, the police and National Tax Service should be independent of the influence of the Blue House and political leaders, and that they should check the president's use of power.

When local elections were reinstated in 1995, close aides of then-President Kim Young-sam were concerned about the possible infringement on the central government's authority.

But Mr. Kim eased their concerns, saying that local governments would be cowed if the president controls the tax office, police agency and the prosecutor.

He followed his own words and named his old school acquaintances as the heads of the three bodies. As a result, the local bodies remained subservient to the administration.

Other former administrations also kept opposition politicians under control by threatening to indict them and handled "disobedient" firms through tax audits.

A former prosecutor and Blue House chief of staff pointed to the informal link between the prosecutor's office and the president as a problem.

He said the custom of prosecutors serving as presidential aides after leaving office should be ended.

Jang Hun, a professor at Chung-Ang University, said a president should act more like a CEO and entrust the cabinet with real powers.

The prime minister, the professor said, should supervise the cabinet and have the authority to submit names for the appointment of cabinet members. A prime minister fully exercising his constitutional rights could help offset abuses of presidential authority.

The "CEO president" should transfer part of his powers to ministers to form an efficient administrative body, replacing the current system where ministers depend on the president for all types of issues.

Representative Park Kwan-yong of the main opposition Grand National Party said, "The president must rely on his ministers to perform their duties decently and ministers should be the equivalent of corporate managers in their department."

Many specialists have said that creating open and independent security, judicial and tax bodies is the most important step to ending the imperial presidency.

The strong presidency of the United States has been the target of criticism for many years. But the Federal Reserve Board, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigations and Internal Revenue Service are much more politically independent than the corresponding bodies in Korea. The U.S. president cannot override the Federal Reserve Board and is not supposed to use tax audits on political opponents.

Representative Chung Woo-taik of the United Liberal Democrats said that under the current system, where the judiciary and other officials come into frequent contact with the president, it is inevitable that the president will seek to control them.

To put an end to this custom, guaranteeing the terms of the agency heads is essential. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board has held his position 15 years and worked with four presidents. Mr. Greenspan has held fast to his views on currency policy regardless of what the president advocated.

The introduction of National Assembly hearings to approve appointments to important positions is another imperative for sound administration.

The current administration was undermined by a series of weak appointees based on personal ties instead of ability. Parliamentary hearings would provide the opportunity to appoint the proper persons.

The Korean president influences the appointment of roughly 3,000 positions in the private and public sector, but only 23 positions are approved by the parliament.

Many insiders expect that this year's presidential election may be an opportunity to make President Kim Dae-jung the last imperial president in modern Korea, as none of the presidential hopefuls are as charismatic as their predecessors.

"Voters should consider the ability of the presidential candidates' advisers in the coming election," said Hahm Sung-deuk, a professor of Korea University.

by Chun Young-gi

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