President Park Geun-hye plans to submit to parliament Tuesday a motion calling for its confirmation of her new prime ministerial nominee, who has been embroiled in a controversy over his remarks on the modern history of the country since his nomination last week.
She might not have expected Moon Chang-keuk, her second nominee for the post in about two weeks, to come under pressure to withdraw. A failure to get parliamentary approval of Moon’s nomination would deal a severe blow to the Park administration, which is struggling to regain public confidence following the April 16 ferry sinking that claimed more than 300 lives. Ahn Dae-hee, a former Supreme Court justice named to succeed Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who had offered to resign over the government’s botched handling of the disaster, withdrew his nomination last month after allegations arose over his post-retirement earnings.
The controversy surrounding Moon, a retired conservative journalist, may not be related to personal wrongdoing but could grow more divisive if not put to a proper end.
TV news footage of his 2011 speech at a church in Seoul, which was aired last Wednesday, showed him saying Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea and the subsequent division of the peninsula were “God’s will.” He also reportedly told a group of university students in April that Seoul did not need to demand Tokyo’s apology for the wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women for Japanese soldiers.
Moon may not necessarily have intended to disparage the nation with his remarks, as claimed by the opposition party, which has called for his voluntary withdrawal. He might have gone too far in shedding light on the achievements of the country from a conservative viewpoint.
But it is still far from appropriate to put the controversy to rest by accepting his initial explanation that the speech “could possibly be distant from ordinary people’s sentiments” as he delivered it in a religious capacity. His viewpoint, as reflected in these and other comments, including a description of a gay pride parade as a “sign of South Korea’s demise,” raises the question of whether he would be the right person for the work of enhancing national reconciliation and reforming society.
The opposition has suggested boycotting parliamentary confirmation hearings prior to a floor vote on his nomination. But the hearings need to be held as stipulated for the public as well as lawmakers to hear Moon’s full account of his historical views. Unless he can clear up the sense of mistrust, his chances of passing the approval vote are slim.