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Absence of justice minister (KOR)

Nov 29,2019
LEE GA-YOUNG
The author is the head of the national team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Last month, justice ministers of Korea and Japan resigned. Korea’s Cho Kuk stepped down on Oct. 14, and Japan’s Katsuyuki Kawai left office on Oct. 31. While they both resigned in October, the processes and aftermaths are very different.

Former Minister Kawai immediately stepped down when an allegation related to the campaign fund of his politician wife was reported. He claimed that he and his wife were not aware, but he was resigning to keep the trust of the people for the justice ministry and prosecutors. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe immediately approved the resignation, apologized to the public and appointed a new minister.

With various allegations against his family, former Justice Minister Cho worked hard to complete prosecutorial reform, but he stepped down after 35 days. He had been at the center of the news during his short time in office, and until the moment he resigned, he express no sincere apology. A month and a half after he left his office, a new justice minister nominee still hasn’t been named.

The Ministry of Justice oversees prosecutors, human rights protection, correction, probation, juvenile protection and immigration. While it seems that the ministry is all about prosecutors reform lately, it is actually in charge of many things related to our lives. Former Justice Minister Kang Kum-sil defined it as the ministry maintaining order. She was appointed as the first justice minister of the Roh Moo-hyun administration for prosecution reforms, but when she took office, there were many other jobs to be done. Kang analyzed that the duty to maintain order in society as a whole was important.

The post of justice minister has been vacant for 46 days. The vacancy is eleven days longer than Cho’s tenure. Rumors of some politicians being considered for the post are gone, and the chronic “confirmation hearing phobia” has returned. No one wants to take the post because of offensives in the hearing. With the general election approaching, the ruling party doesn’t want to see a nominee beaten in the hearing. These political considerations help extend the vacancy of the minister.

Under the acting minister, there won’t be much vacuum in the ministry. But it is normal that a minister takes responsibility and leads the ministry. Politics that do not make efforts to resolve the abnormal situation are cowardly. It is irresponsible to keep the position vacant for so long because of the hearing and impact on the election. Minister Kang said, “There’s no candidate? Yes, there is, if you look for one.” The principle to exclude someone with a prosecutor’s background should also be retracted. If it is the right person, responsible politics would find a suitable candidate and appoint the post regardless of background.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 28, Page 36