President-elect Park Geun-hye’s closemouthed transition team is under fire for running pell-mell without a control tower, leaving a sizeable dent in the incoming president’s quiet and determined leadership style that had anchored her political career throughout various crises.
Park’s style is, on one hand, lauded for being principled, apolitical and consistent. But such pros are being increasingly overshadowed by accusations of being uncommunicative, suppressed and poorly informed.
In the week since the transition committee was launched on Jan. 6, spokesmen contradicted one another, while a key member quit without explanation, and some members showed agitation at being confined in their role due to the lack of “pan-divisional” coordination.
Some blame it on the media’s rigorous attention on her team, but pundits still suggest that it may be necessary for the next leader to show that she cares.
“Park’s leadership is a quiet one that individually and directly manages each of her people, a style very reminiscent of her father’s,” said politics professor Choi Jin of Kyonggi University who also heads the Institute of Presidential Leadership, referring to former President Park Chung-hee.
“While the personal (style) remains the same, the power (structure) has changed, meaning it may be time for her to show a proactive transformation.”
While her father, who ruled the country for 18 years without a clear protg, still had the backing of such powerful organizations as the security agency and the military, Park’s leadership is without such leverage to help her hold ground in today’s time, he said.
At the core of the rising criticism is the lack of a mediator or a coordinator with substantial leeway to make decisions on behalf of the president-elect.
The role similar to the one taken by former lawmaker Kim Moo-sung in Park’s election committee is largely unfilled at the transition committee, which is chaired by former Constitutional Court chief justice Kim Yong-joon with reticent policymaker Rep. Chin Young as his deputy.
“The lineup of the committee with non-political figures appears to show the president-elect’s intention to keep the team humble and under control,” a former member of the election committee said on condition of anonymity.
Though the team is operating on schedule with the government agencies’ briefing sessions in full swing, the hiccups and fissures are apparent.
On Saturday, the transition committee’s spokesman Yoon Chang-jung ― who himself was under fire in the past for his far-right rhetoric ― held a press briefing denying news reports that Park reportedly fumed at government organizations allegedly leaking negative responses to her pledges.
“Such news reports are absolutely not true,” Yoon said.
Barely an hour later, Park’s personal spokesman Park Sun-kyoo held another press briefing at the same spot and offered a different opinion, saying, “The president-elect does feel uncomfortable with such phenomena.”
Some transition committee sources blame the wishy-washy operation on the lack of an interim leader to oversee the whole picture.
“While we need a person who feels confident enough to adjust and coordinate the operation, everyone is somewhat in a horizontal position, simply keeping an eye on each other and sticking to their own work,” an official was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity.
Signs of problems in internal communication were also visible regarding another Park briefing over the weekend about North Korea’s purported preparation for a nuclear test.
To Park Sun-kyoo’s statement calling for the North to “immediately halt the reckless nuclear test for the sake of inter-Korean relations,” the transition committee members reportedly frowned on the matter not being deliberated beforehand with the subcommittee in charge.
As the transition committee’s priority on information security caused growing criticism for violating the “right to know,” the team’s spokespeople have also on several occasions reversed their initial decision not to hold briefings on the government agencies’ reporting sessions.
Further showing a unilateral decision-making process, Ewha Womans University professor Choi Dae-seok, who had been a key member of the foreign affairs, defense and unification subcommittee, stepped down from his post Saturday for “personal reasons.”
The news baffled many other transition team members as Yoon explained to reporters that Park approved his abrupt resignation without clarifying the exact reason for it.
Some observers stress a need to diversify the role of some of the key transition team members such as Chin Young or Lee Jung-hyun, who is in charge of political affairs at Park’s secretariat.
They point to the role of Kim Hyung-o five years ago, who had been then-President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s bridge between the transition committee and the secretariat, media and National Assembly.
Lee Jung-hyun declined to comment when asked of such rising criticism.
“Although Park’s style has many advantages, there is a risk that she alone would face the responsibility when a problem occurs. It can be said that (if compared to a human body), while there is the brain and arms and legs, there is no waist at the transition committee,” Choi said.
“First and foremost, there needs to be someone who can coordinate how much information and how much background can be released publicly and on what points to emphasize (in order to effectively deliver the committee’s) messages,” he said.
Yoon Chang-jung, meanwhile, reemphasized Park’s position on prioritizing security and maintaining a low profile in communicating the transition committee’s operations.
“The transition teams (in the past) have created extensive misunderstanding and confusion among the people by mass producing premature policies … (Running a small and mobile transition team) is a principle that must be maintained without fail as we create a new paradigm for the transition committee within the legal boundary.”
By Lee Joo-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org