A president’s relationship with the opposition in his first months in office is crucial for setting a new administration to work. It’s even more the case if that president was elected with less than a majority of votes and his party lacks control of the parliament.
That is part of the reality that may have encouraged President Moon Jae-in to pay a personal visit to the four opposition parties on his first day in office. That rare gesture fostered the mood for the rival parties to leave their bitter battling behind and reset their relationship based on the new political environment -- hopefully one less confrontational.
But barely 10 days into the Moon presidency, signs of partisan conflict are emerging, with opposition parties -- slowly recovering from the election defeat and repositioning themselves -- raising their voices.
Commenting on a series of announcements and decisions made by Moon, Floor Leader Chung Woo-taek of the Liberty Korea Party warned of “strong resistance.”
He said his party detected signs of unilateralism from some appointments and policies announced by the Moon administration and such moves clearly ignore the view of the majority of the people, who did not vote for him.
The floor leader of the minor liberal opposition People’s Party also said his party would not refrain from seeking alliances with other opposition parties, including the conservative Bareun Party, if it was necessary to rein in the Moon administration.
What provoked the opposition includes the Moon administration’s plans to reopen investigations in politically sensitive issues like the sinking of the Sewol ferry and allegations that former President Park Geun-hye’s former aide exerted influence on state affairs during the Park administration.
Moon’s decision on two other ideologically sensitive issues – the revocation of state-authored history textbooks for middle and high school students and the singing of an activist song during the May 18 Gwangju civil uprising commemoration -- have also fueled opposition discontent.
It is obvious those actions further enthralled Moon’s supporters who are still reveling in the joy of their victory. What’s also obvious is they provided an equivalent amount of irritation Moon’s opponents and critics, who see them as acts of impatient unilateralism.
Moon and opposition leaders plan to hold a lunch meeting at the Blue House where they are expected to discuss those issues. It may give clues as to what kind of relationship the two sides will have in the months to come.
A real test of the relationship will be at the National Assembly, which will convene an extraordinary session on May 29. The 30-day session, which will be preceded by two days of confirmation hearings on Prime Minister nominee Lee Nak-yon the previous week, will be highlighted by a vote on Lee’s nomination that is scheduled for May 31.
Other key parliamentary business includes confirmation of senior administration officials and deliberation of the bills to reorganize the executive branch and draw up a supplementary budget primarily aimed to finance Moon’s election promise to create jobs in the public sector.
The tone of the ruling-opposition relationship will be set by the parliamentary vetting process for Lee, whose confirmation is essential for Moon to make follow-up appointments to form a new Cabinet. Under the Constitution, the president should get the prime minister’s recommendations for candidates for Cabinet posts.
The opposition has the right and duty to scrutinize the prime minister nominee thoroughly, but it should not try to take parliamentary approval of Lee hostage as many opposition parties have in the past.
For their part, Moon and his ruling party need to be unassuming and regard opposition members as partners instead of resorting to hegemonic unilateralism. Mutual respect and concession is key to harmony and compromise in politics.