Prime Minister-nominee Moon Chang-keuk took a single path as a newspaper journalist for 38 years. The 66-year-old former political correspondent never strayed from his job or attempted to cross over into politics or elsewhere. Even after his retirement in 2012, he stood in front of college students, offering lectures on the principles of journalism and its role of pursuing truth without favor.
Moon was not a popular figure but was a journalist who wrote a series of columns highly critical of high-profile politicians and presidents, including President Park Geun-hye.
In a column titled “The Park Geun-hye phenomenon,” Moon lashed out at her for insisting on keeping the election pledges abandoned by her predecessor Lee Myung-bak. “It is braver to give them up than to uphold bad pledges just to keep the faith.” Moon also criticized Park’s closed communication style, saying her words had often been misinterpreted or exaggerated by her aides.
This is why President Park’s nomination of Moon as new prime minister on Tuesday was seen as a surprising choice to many, perhaps even to him. Moon is the first journalist to be tapped for the post in the country’s modern history.
Opting for a former reporter who once sharply criticized her was undoubtedly a wild choice. But it was seen as an attempt to enhance communication with the public and forge a national unity by offering the nation’s highest unelected post to an ex-journalist who is not from her party’s strongholds in the Gyeongsang provinces. Moon was born and raised in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province.
President Park appears to have made this choice as Moon seems to have no affiliation to institutions or communities linked to power.
The nominee has, so far, no particular problems in regard to a list of qualification standards that have challenged many high-ranking officials at the parliamentary hearing. Moon served as a Navy officer. He is not especially wealthy and has no sons to dodge the military draft. Moon has three daughters.
Cheong Wa Dae believes that Moon could easily win parliamentary approval, unlike its first choice, former star prosecutor Ahn Dae-hee. Ahn withdrew from the prime minister nomination late last month amid spiraling speculation that he had received favors during his law career.
Despite growing concerns over a further delay in her state reform drive proposed in the wake of the Sewol disaster, Park has put considerable time and effort into finding someone who could satisfy the public’s demand. Calls have been mounting for a person with high morals who is also capable of leading her reform drive.
In her second trial, Park appears to have succeeded in presenting a person without major ethical lapses. But questions remain over whether this self-made journalist, with zero political or administrative experience, can successfully take on the nation’s No. 2 post. He also faces the daunting task of getting parliamentary approval. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy is already up in arms against Moon, questioning his unbalanced viewpoint. The party said Park’s goal of forging national unity is impossible with Moon as he has expressed strong conservative political views that undermined the legacies and reputations of liberal leaders in the past.
In a column published in May 2009, Moon indirectly criticized late President Roh Moo-hyun being given a national funeral after he committed suicide. “My heart breaks when thinking of him as a person. But his actions, as a public figure, were inappropriate,” he wrote.
Another column on late President Kim Dae-jung also caused a stir: “I feel pity that he died even before revealing (the true) scale of (his) slush fund.”
By Cho Chung-un (email@example.com