(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on March 16)
Now for the healing
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn announced Wednesday that he would not run for president. We welcome his decision, albeit belated, not to run. Since he started to serve as acting president after former President Park Geun-hye's impeachment over abuse of power charges, rumors spread that he will enter the presidential race after he saw a dramatic surge in his popularity among conservative voters. He not only remained silent in the face of reporters' endless questions about a potential bid for presidency, but also fueled suspicions by behaving in an opaque manner.
Hwang raised uncertainty by not fixing the next presidential election schedule even five days after the Constitutional Court upheld the National Assembly's motion to impeach Park. As the next election had to be held within 60 days of a presidential removal, the clock was ticking but he didn't seem to hear it. The National Election Commission even released a press release demanding Hwang finalize the election schedule as soon as possible.
In fact, if Hwang had a presidential dream, it wasn't a very sensible one. Acting president Hwang, who served as prime minister and minister of justice in the Park administration, cannot avoid the stain of the historically tarnished administration. It's not only natural but fit that he retire.
There's another reason why Hwang shouldn't have run for president. Had he, Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy and Minister of Strategy and Finance Yoo Il-ho would have had to assume two additional titles: acting president and acting prime minister. We can hardly expect the government to run smoothly in such circumstances.
Yet it is a worrisome development that the presidential race is dominated by contenders from opposition parties after Hwang's announcement given the remarkable support he managed to get from conservative voters. If liberal candidates control the race without competition from conservative rivals, it could force conservative voters to lose their voice, weakening the legitimacy of the next president and consolidating politics based on ideological divide and confrontation. The conservative camp must re-establish the genuine values of conservatism to compete with a powerful liberal candidate.
The opposition camp should be careful. If they flaunt hostility to conservative leaders using the catchphrase of rooting out corruption, it will not help them win victory. Instead, that will only trigger internal divisions. A season for coalition and co-governance has returned. That's the way political wounds are healed.