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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 4)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 06:56 September 04, 2019

'Cho Kuk factor'
President Moon ignorant of voices from political opponents

President Moon Jae-in appears set to appoint his nominee Cho Kuk as justice minister despite an escalating prosecution investigation into fraud and corruption suspicions surrounding him and his relatives.

Given that Cho has been the flashpoint of a fierce political fight since being nominated in early August, his appointment, if made, is likely to throw the nation deeper into a vortex.

After a planned confirmation hearing was cancelled Monday, largely due to a boycott by the conservative parties, Cho held a long press conference at the National Assembly to respond to the allegations. He said he felt moral responsibility for what was happening to his family, especially his daughter, 28, who is suspected of academic fraud, but denied being involved in any of the allegations raised against relatives. He said he was prepared for the job as the justice minister, and would work hard if given the chance. He became emotional at one point while talking about his daughter having a hard time because of much media attention.

It is partly understandable that President Moon needs Cho to complete the ongoing judicial reform centered on limiting the prosecution's power, one of the liberal President's major priorities. As a senior civil affairs secretary from May 2017 to July this year, Cho, a law professor from Seoul National University, had spearheaded this project. If appointed, it would be a clear mandate to finish this challenging work.

But the question is whether he is the best or only person for this. He is obviously a risky bet for Moon.

First of all, Moon's "obsession" with Cho shows his biased perceptions toward political opponents. This is quite worrisome. The conservative parties led by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) have strongly opposed Cho's appointment mainly because they see him as a "radical reformist" with a deep ideological bias.

It is true that the LKP, led by Hwang Kyo-ahn, who served as prime minister under the now-jailed former President Park Geun-hye, has been frustrating. LKP floor leader Rep. Na Kyung-won recently made unscrupulous remarks that could revive the deep-rooted regional division in Korean politics while attacking the Moon administration at a political rally in Busan last week. This was another symbolic incident showing where the party now stands, and why few are optimistic about its future.

But Moon, as head of state, should reach out to his political opponents as best as he can and listen to them to seek a compromise on issues of conflict. However, he has made no such efforts. Rather, it seems he is completely ignorant of the voices from the conservatives and he feels it is meaningless to talk to them.

In Cho Kuk's case, Moon has largely been indifferent to what the conservative parties have been saying and their concerns about Cho's ethics. In a sense, it was quite natural for the conservative parties to boycott a confirmation hearing for Cho because they knew it would only be a formality for Moon to appoint Cho, regardless of what would be said at the hearing.

What is clear is that Moon's decision about Cho will deepen the political turmoil, and it is Moon who has to assume the biggest responsibility.

What also makes Cho a risky choice is Moon's blind support for him despite the prosecution's ongoing investigation. It cannot be ruled out that Cho may become a suspect depending on how the investigation unfolds. If this happens, it will be a big embarrassment for Moon as well as the country.

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