Moon Chang-keuk’s withdrawal of his name as the nominee for prime minister put an end to the two-week-long controversy over him, but it has left questions to be answered and things to be discussed.
Moon’s withdrawal has forced President Park Geun-hye to search for her third nominee in less than a month. This means the two-month administrative vacuum created by Chung Hong-won’s announcement of his resignation in the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster will not be filled for weeks.
The debacle over the nomination of Moon, and before him Ahn Dae-hee, who also gave up his nomination over his wealth, has been holding up the official appointment of nine cabinet nominees, all of whom have to go through parliamentary confirmation hearings.
President Park is primarily responsible for this prolonged vacuum because her choices for Chung’s replacement had to give up their nominations mainly because of their own problems. The problems could and should have been discovered in the background investigation of the candidates.
In the case of Moon, as this page has previously pointed out, his comments and writings should have been a priority in his background check because he had been a journalist with a major conservative newspaper for more than 30 years.
Cheong Wa Dae could have discovered the potentially problematic statements, and officials could have either advised the president not to pick Moon or prepared him to cope with controversies that might arise from them.
Had Moon and Cheong Wa Dae been well prepared, they would not have been so helpless over the vicious attacks against him, which started with a KBS report on Moon’s speech at a church, in which he said that Japan’s colonial rule of Korea and the national division were “God’s will.”
Those comments may well provoke some in Korea, where Japan and national division are sensitive issues, but what is certain is that Moon’s comments at the church were taken out of context and that the network put together only some parts to paint him as a man with unacceptable historical views. Moon’s critics also used his past writing about the Korean victims of Japan’s military sexual slavery to accuse him of being pro-Japanese.
It is regrettable that Moon himself exacerbated the situation by saying initially that he had nothing to apologize for. It would have been better for him to humbly say that there were some misunderstandings.
Indeed, there is a little room for criticism of what Moon wrote and said, but the controversies quickly developed into a witch hunt, especially by the progressive bloc, including the left-wing media.
Their conservative counterparts launched a counter-offensive, but it was too late to reverse the overwhelmingly negative public sentiment. President Park’s indecisiveness on the fate of Moon, along with some ruling party lawmakers’ call for Moon’s withdrawal, added to the negative public sentiment.
Because Moon walked away without going through the parliamentary hearing, the public was not given the chance to determine his real historical views and whether he was fit to become the prime minister. The last two weeks only exposed the bitter reality that Korea is bound by ideological division.
It may be expecting too much, but hopefully Park’s next nominee could be one who can forestall any such ideological standoff and heal society that suffers from so many divisions, some of which have been widened by Moon’s nomination and withdrawal.