The first meeting between President Moon Jae-in and President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, scheduled for Wednesday, was abruptly canceled, revealing their conflicting views on key issues and the purpose of the get-together.
It marks the first case in which a meeting between the incumbent and president-elect was called off after the plans were made public. As it was unprecedented, speculation mounted over why the two leaders failed to get together.
According to a Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson, the meeting was rescheduled because “working-level consultations have not been completed.” Yoon’s spokesperson told reporters that both sides agreed to keep details about the postponement undisclosed.
It is inevitable that the outgoing and incoming administrations tend to clash with each other during the transition period. But it had long been a custom that, after a bitter election is over, the incumbent president meets with a president-elect, exchanging friendly comments and confirming their commitment to a smooth transition. This ceremonial event was meant to showcase the maturity of the country’s democracy.
It is regrettable that Moon and Yoon apparently disregarded the significance of the customary event. Furthermore, the emotional gap between the two, laid bare through the sudden cancellation, spells more trouble in the coming months, possibly beyond the official inauguration of President-elect Yoon in May.
It is no secret that the two sides failed to narrow their differences on key agenda, including a pardon for imprisoned ex-President Lee Myung-bak and Moon’s personnel appointments for public agencies.
There were signs of confrontation ahead of the Moon-Yoon meeting. Yoon put pressure on Cheong Wa Dae to pardon ex-President Lee, now serving a 17-year prison term for bribery and embezzlement, and reportedly called for advance consultations about Moon’s personnel appointments toward the end of his term.
On Thursday, Park Soo-hyun, senior secretary for public communication at Cheong Wa Dae, said President Moon has the right to make personnel appointments until his term ends, confirming speculation that the issue is one of the reasons behind the delay of the first encounter.
Park also denied media reports that Cheong Wa Dae may allow Yoon to nominate the next head of the Bank of Korea, with the current Gov. Lee Ju-yeol’s term set to end at the end of March.
Park slammed the critics who pressured Moon to restrain from appointing his aides and officials to cushy positions at state-run agencies, calling their suggestions “nonsense.” On the surface, Park’s argument may sound convincing, but the issue is not so simple.
The spoils system has long been under criticism for its side effects. In his early tenure, Moon pledged to do away with what is called “parachute appointments” that send people with no expertise to public organizations. Sadly, it turned out to be another empty promise, as demonstrated by a slew of such controversial appointments.
Pardoning ex-President Lee is another tricky issue. Yoon’s demand for a pardon before he takes office may be taken as a move to undermine the rights of the incumbent president, but it is another issue that Moon and Yoon have to jointly deal with.
In fact, the hot-button issues such as the parachute appointments and a presidential pardon should be discussed, coordinated and worked out through the presidential transition team as well as a hotline between Moon and Lee. It appears that the crucial communication channel between the two sides is lacking, if not absent.
For all their differing views, Moon and Yoon should stop bickering with each other and try to find compromises together to heal the emotional wounds left by the extremely tight presidential election and pave the way for a smooth transition period.
By Korea Herald (email@example.com