Ahn Cheol-soo has a plan to redistribute power

Posted on : 2012-10-10 16:11 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Independent candidate floats idea of limiting president’s power, sharing executive with Moon Jae-in
 who recently left the Democratic United Party to join Ahn’s campaign. Park Sun-sook (far left) is also a former DUP member and Kim Sun-shik (far right) is a former Grand National Party member. (Yonhap News)
who recently left the Democratic United Party to join Ahn’s campaign. Park Sun-sook (far left) is also a former DUP member and Kim Sun-shik (far right) is a former Grand National Party member. (Yonhap News)

By Lee Tae-hee, Kim Won-chul and Song Chae Kyung-hwa, staff reporters

Ahn Cheol-soo is devising a new plan for sharing executive power, sources reported on Oct. 9.

According to the independent presidential candidate’s conception, the President would be in charge of reunification, foreign affairs, national defense, and the country’s “future vision,” while other aspects of governance duties be handled by the Prime Minister.

Analysts are considering the ramifications for a possible deal with the Democratic United Party (DUP) to float a single opposition candidate. The plan appears to be a response to DUP candidate Moon Jae-in’s mention of a system where the prime minister would hold a greater share of the executive’s responsibilities during his Sept. 16 candidacy acceptance speech.

“What we need now is a clear vision for the future,” said a key member of Ahn’s election camp. “At the moment, we’re developing an election pledge for what we’re tentatively calling the ‘Ministry of Future Planning,’ which would oversee food, industry, and the country’s course for the future.”

Ahn’s ideas are similar to Moon’s prime ministerial responsibility conception, in which the President focuses on foreign policy (including reunification, diplomacy, and security) and the Prime Minister handles most domestic policy, but with the addition of a framework where the President oversees planning for future development.

Analysts said the “Ministry of Future Planning” appears to be a multi-purpose political and policy strategy that would allow Ahn to seize the “future” theme for his campaign while answering criticisms about the lack of specificity in his policies. The idea also ties in with a possible deal to run a single opposition candidate.

But a new ministry with this much power could lower other ministries on the totem pole. For this reason, experts are forecasting trouble to come over the possible reorganization of government structure.

In essence, the ministry would be responsible for bringing about Ahn’s “two-wheel economy,” where economic democracy and social services represent one wheel and an innovation economy the other. By the current plan, it would have tremendous power, handling not only policy but also budget decisions. In addition to promoting basic sciences and telecommunications, it would also work to support SMEs and keep conglomerates from having too much economic power, while serving as a “social economy” to address such longstanding South Korean issues as poverty among the elderly and youth unemployment.

This explains Ahn’s camp likening it to a “futuristic revival of the Economic Planning Board,” the state pilot agency that spearheaded the country’s five-year plans in the ’60s and ’70s.

“The biggest issue today is creating a virtuous cycle of growth and welfare,” said a key figure in Ahn‘s camp. “If we leave that to the current structure with the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, they will only work within their own organizations, making a real solution impossible.”

In contrast, the same person added, the Ministry of Future Planning could be given the budgeting power to serve as the center of the organization. “With [the Ministry] setting policy priorities and sending down the available budget, we can finally get a real solution,” the official said.

The key member said the defining characteristic of Ahn’s policy ideas was “convergence administration.” This system involves first determining what is needed by society, and then setting up a task force with the personnel and budget from the different ministries to resolve the issues. The private sector would also have a part to play in this framework.

While giving his policy vision on Oct. 7, Ahn made reference to an 88-year-old woman who took her own life after being denied basic livelihood security. The key member of Ahn’s camp explained that by using this example, Ahn was expressing his intent to resolve such issues through convergence administration. In other words, only by overcoming the operational limits of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the National Tax Agency will it be possible to address the issue of poverty among the elderly.

Setting up such a ministry would mean taking budgeting powers away from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, reducing it to its former status as the Ministry of Finance and Economy. It would also require distributing economy, telecommunications, science, and welfare duties currently split among the Korea Communications Commission, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Ministry of Knowledge Economy, Ministry of Health and Welfare, and Ministry of Public Administration and Security. In other words, sweeping changes to the government structure would become inevitable.

Also, the concentration of so much power in a single ministry would very likely mean the other ministries would end up answering to it. One need only look back to the Economic Planning Board, which had both positive aspects, with the drafting of long-term development plans, and negative ones, with abuses of its vast powers.

The idea of sharing responsibilities between the President and Prime Minister also ties in with Ahn’s previous pledge to reduce what he called the President’s “imperial” authority.

At its core, however, the idea was developed with a system in mind where Ahn would be President with Moon as Prime Minister. In a sense, he was saying that Moon could give up his candidacy and concede the opposition spot on the ballot to Ahn under the premise that he would be promised the prime minister position.

Moon’s idea of a coalition government, which he outlined in a May interview with the Hankyoreh, could be seen as the reverse scenario, with Moon as President and Ahn as Prime Minister. His camp’s ideas for a candidate consolidation generally assume that Ahn will eventually bow out. Now, observers are predicting something of a battle of nerves over how to decide on a final candidate, and how to divide the benefits if he is elected.

In his May interview, Moon said his ideas for a deal with Ahn would “have to go as far as forming a coalition government.” In his Sept. 16 acceptance speech for the DUP candidacy, Moon said he would “divide up the ‘imperial president’ powers with a prime ministerial responsibility system.”

Many observers are expecting these two ideas to help hasten a deal on a single opposition candidate, allowing for a sharing of power where the candidate who drops out would still be able to hold considerable weight as Prime Minister. The prime ministerial responsibility system now appears poised to be one of the core areas in future discussions toward such a deal.

Meanwhile, Ahn made reference to a new stage in the South Korean economy during a keynote speech on Oct. 9 at the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul. “If it was cooperation with the maritime economy that ushered in the era of industrialization, now we need a Northern economy to bring about the Korean economy’s ‘second act,’” he said.

By a “Northern economy,” Ahn was referring to another key component of his policy ideas: locating new growth engines by modernizing the North Korean rail network to provide a land-based link between South Korea/Japan and continental Eurasia.


Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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