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(News Focus) After polarizing campaign, Moon seeks to forge bipartisan cooperation

2017/05/09 23:59

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- Fresh from his election victory, President-elect Moon Jae-in will face the daunting task of healing national divisions and mending fences with opposing parties after a grueling campaign that exposed deep fault lines in South Korean politics.

The reality of a tough presidency is likely to sink in quickly for the liberal leader as his five-year term begins without any transition period due to the March 10 ouster of his scandal-hit predecessor, Park Geun-hye.

The immediate task for Moon will be nominations for top government posts, seen as a litmus test of his leadership to promote national integration and foster trust with the public as well as parliament, political watchers said.

In a country long plagued by deep-seated regionalism, staffing the presidential secretariat and the Cabinet has been a sensitive issue for any leader that, if not handled properly, could trigger a political firestorm.

On the stump, the human rights lawyer-turned-politician said that he would pursue a "unity" government transcending regional, social and political divides, and thus left open the possibility of joining hands with reform-minded, moderate conservatives.

He has also indicated his desire to pick a prime minister from a region other than the southwestern part of the country that he hails from, in a move to foster regional harmony.

This photo, taken on May 7, 2017, shows Moon Jae-in, then presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, on the stump in Gwangju, about 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on May 7, 2017, shows Moon Jae-in, then presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, on the stump in Gwangju, about 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Observers said his first personnel decision is likely to be on his chief of staff, a post that does not require parliamentary confirmation, but is still subject to an intense political and public scrutiny.

In a government launched without any preparatory period, the role of the chief secretary is seen as crucial in shaping both the presidential office and the government, and ensuring key campaign pledges are reflected in the initial policy formulation process.

The process of picking a premier and Cabinet ministers is expected to be tricky as any nomination withdrawal due to grueling parliamentary vetting could deal a dispiriting blow to the nascent government.

A delay in the appointment of top officials will inevitably extend the uneasy period during which the new leader has to run state affairs with holdovers from the former conservative government.

The appointment of a prime minister requires approval from the National Assembly. But ministers, who are to be nominated through the premier's recommendations, do not require parliamentary consent.

Beyond his staff picks, Moon's top priority is addressing the deep social and political divides caused by the massive corruption scandal involving the former president and three weeks of bitter election campaigning.

This photo, taken on April 23, 2017, shows Moon Jae-in, then presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, speaking during a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on April 23, 2017, shows Moon Jae-in, then presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, speaking during a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The election once again demonstrated the country's deep political polarization, with both liberals and conservatives calling each other "evils" that should be removed if the nation wants to move forward. The election also came on the heels of massive rival rallies -- one led by anti-Park protesters and the other by right-wingers in support of the disgraced former leader.

"For social integration, (the new leader) needs to focus on addressing national conflicts first by putting himself in others' shoes with thoughtfulness," Shin Yul, a professor of political science at Myongji University, told Yonhap News Agency.

"He must not take a stance that regards himself as good and his competitors as evil," he added.

With Moon's Democratic Party far short of a parliamentary majority, setting the tone for cooperation with the legislature remains another crucial task.

Currently, his party holds 119 seats in the 299-seat parliament. By law, a contested bill can be sent to a plenary session for a vote only with the consent of at least 60 percent of the sitting lawmakers or 180 seats.

Experts said the current dynamics at the parliament call for the new leader's pursuit of "cooperative governance."

   "The new president needs to create a new governance system that seeks compromise and cooperation with other political forces or parties, while making a declaration to usher in an era of grand compromise through inclusion and engagement," said Yoo Yong-hwa, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

To strengthen policy cooperation with parliament, experts stressed the need for a new communication channel between the government and opposition parties. The government has had a regular dialogue mechanism only with the ruling party.

Keeping in close contact with the public is another key task for Moon. The former president drew much flak for her lack of communication with citizens and even her top secretaries.

To get closer to the citizens, Moon has pledged to relocate the hitherto secluded presidential office to the central government complex near the Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul -- a key rallying point for public protests that led to the dismissal of the disgraced former president.

A constitutional revision to reshape the way the nation is run is another major task for the new president.

Long before the election, calls for altering the decades-old Constitution have persisted with many saying it has failed to embrace social and political changes that have occurred since its last revision in 1987.

The ongoing debate, led by a parliamentary panel, has centered on how to address the inordinate concentration of power in a single national leader, long blamed for corruption and political polarization.

Related to the revision issue, Moon has advocated for changing the current single five-year presidency into a renewable four-year term, and proposed a referendum on the revision in time for the regional elections next year.

As for a way to curb presidential powers, he has pledged to empower the prime minister with more authority to handle day-to-day state affairs so that he can focus on the "strategic" national agenda.

This photo, taken on April 12, 2017, shows Moon Jae-in, then presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, speaking during a parliamentary session on a constitutional revision at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on April 12, 2017, shows Moon Jae-in, then presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, speaking during a parliamentary session on a constitutional revision at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr

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