Every president has his or her own style. Moon Jae-in is no exception, and his appointments of senior administration officials have distinguished him from past presidents.
First, Moon -- unlike his predecessors -- comes to the Blue House pressroom to personally introduce presidential appointees. That certainly helps the president stay close to the public.
The way Moon selects senior administration officials so far has been generally positive as well. It is encouraging that he picks people from a much broader pool than past presidents.
Moon gave some top posts to people who did not participate in or assist his election campaign.
For instance, Kim Dong-yeon, a former career technocrat, was nominated for the powerful post of deputy prime minister and finance minister, even though he has never met Moon personally.
Kim served key posts in the past two conservative governments: two Blue House posts in the Lee Myung-bak administration and the post of minister for government policy coordination in the Park Geun-hye government.
There are more cases in which Moon went beyond people close to him. Jang Ha-sung, a reformist economist named as the chief Blue House policy adviser, once helped Ahn Cheol-soo, who was one of Moon’s rival candidates during the presidential election.
There is also Foreign Minister nominee Kang Kyung-wha, a woman close to Ban Ki-moon, the former UN secretary-general who once threatened Moon’s dominance in the campaign.
Kim Kwang-doo, who was named as vice chair of the National Economic Advisory Council, is a case of Moon reaching out even into enemy territory. The former economics professor had long advised ousted President Park so closely that he was referred to as her “resident tutor.”
In announcing Kim Kwang-doo’s appointment, Moon said that Kim represents his efforts to combine the views and policies of “rational progressives and reformative conservatives.” It would be good if we could see more such cases, as they would certainly help Moon with his promise to achieve national integration.
Another positive aspect of Moon’s appointments is that he favors nonmainstreamers. He named Pi Woo-jin, a retired lieutenant colonel, as the first female minister of patriots and veterans affairs, a post which has usually gone to retired male generals.
The nomination of Kang also draw public attention because she is the first woman set to head the Foreign Ministry. She also does not belong to the mainstream of the ministry -- those who passed the state-run foreign service exam.
The cases of Deputy Prime Minister nominee Kim Dong-yeon, Pi and Kang clearly show that Moon wants to break barriers in Korean society, including those related to seniority, economic status, gender and personal background.
It is good for the president to endeavor to break such barriers, but -- as some critics have said -- some of Moon’s appointments are seen as more geared toward symbolism than substance.
For instance, Moon and his aides tried to highlight the underprivileged background of Deputy Prime Minister nominee Kim. He lived in a shanty town in his childhood, went to night classes at college and overcame more obstacles to rise up the civil service. Indeed, Kim has been a laudable success story, but what is most important is whether he will be able to manage the national economy well.
Moon’s personnel decisions will eventually be assessed by the performances of the men and women he picks. Competence and ethical standards should be the first and foremost consideration of the president in filling senior posts.
On Wednesday, the National Assembly starts confirmation hearings on Prime Minister designate Lee Nak-yon. This will be followed by more parliamentary hearings that will be accompanied by harsh scrutiny by the opposition, the media and civic groups. That would give some early clues as to whether our “appointer in chief” is making the right choices.