For Roh, the troubles just won't go away

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2006, 12:00am

Following the resignation of his education minister, President Roh Moo-hyun is set to face more political heat over another key cabinet appointment as he attempts to stave off lame-duck status.

Mr Roh has come under fierce criticism for a string of appointments to important government posts whom critics say have been selected more for their ideological sympathies than for their experience and aptitude.

'Roh Moo-hyun has been choosing people in his own image. His nominees share his identity and his philosophy,' Park Ihn-hwi, of Ewha University, said.

The president has been using his powers of patronage to try to shore up his political authority as he battles plummeting approval ratings - now below 30 per cent - and his supporters have shrunk to a hard core of staunch liberals.

'I think he has realised that he has nothing to lose, and that his last primary goal is to protect his legacy [through these appointments]', Professor Park said.

It is not unusual for South Korea's head of state to lose authority towards the end of his presidency. But even by the standards of the country's single-term system, the ebbing away of Mr Roh's authority has come early.

Opponents have also blamed the president's practice of stoking political divisions through his uncompromising and belligerent attitude. This has left Mr Roh with little political support to draw on.

He is loyal to his followers, rewarding anyone who helps him and making anyone who hurts him pay the price, wrote conservative columnist Kim Dae-joong.

But his policy of surrounding himself with ideological bedfellows backfired dramatically last week after the education minister and close presidential confidant, Kim Byong-joon, was forced to resign over allegations of plagiarism and exaggerating his academic achievements.

Korean politicians and the media are now bracing themselves for battle over the possible nomination of a long-term presidential friend, Moon Jae-in, for the crucial post of justice minister in the run-up to a presidential election in December next year.

The position is important because the justice minister controls the election process and although politically independent, he can end up making crucial decisions.

The recent controversy over the education minister has left the president looking ever more besieged and isolated.

In the furore over Mr Kim's academic record, the president tried to stand by his nominee and so set himself against his own ruling Uri party, which added to calls for the minister to step down.

The president is believed to been deeply angered by the loss of his education secretary and criticisms of his appointments.

Lee Chung-hee, of Hankuk University, said the president needed to change his style if he is to salvage some authority in the remaining months of his presidency.

'He is a very stubborn man with a very conflictual management style. This was successful for getting elected as president, but he needs to adopt a different style if he is to be a successful president,' he said.