Many public servants have resigned to run in the April 15 general election. They include former Cheong Wa Dae officials, high-ranking officials of the government and public organizations. Even some judges have quit their jobs in pursuit of National Assembly seats. Most of them are seeking the candidacy of the ruling party
Reportedly about 130 public officials resigned to register with the National Election Commission as aspiring candidates of the Democratic Party of Korea. The number is much higher than four years ago when some 40 public officials resigned to run in the general election. About 70 this time came from Cheong Wa Dae under President Moon Jae-in.
A vice minister of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, who was in charge of measures regarding the Tada ride-hailing service and taxis, resigned last month. His resignation came seven months after his appointment, at the height of controversies over whether to ban Tada.
A former ruling party lawmaker appointed by Moon as National Pension Service chairman and CEO stepped down 10 months before the expiry of his term to seek Democratic Party candidacy.
A three-time former lawmaker appointed in October 2017 by the president as chief executive of Korea Expressway Corp. resigned last month. His term was to end in November this year.
Another former Democratic Party lawmaker named as president of Korea SMEs and Startups Agency in March 2018 resigned last week. His term was scheduled to end in March 2020. He was accused by the election commission on suspicions of violating campaign law by sending holiday gifts to residents in his former electorate last year.
They did not complete their terms to run in the elections. To them, public office served as a stepping stone to decorate their political career. It is questionable if they may have worked both in body and in spirit.
Some were shameless. The head of the Police Human Resources Development Institute, who was the Ulsan police chief before that, offered his resignation last week to seek Democratic Party candidacy. He is suspected of abusing power in the presidential office’s alleged intervention in the election of a Moon’s crony as Ulsan mayor in June 2017.
A figure dismissed as Ulsan vice mayor in connection with the election meddling suspicions rejoined the Democratic Party last week, apparently to run in the elections.
A former Cheong Wa Dae official suspected of being involved in covering up its inspections into corruption allegations against another confidant of Moon left the presidential office this month to run on the Democratic Party ticket.
It is conscionable of public servants to stay at their jobs until they are cleared of suspicions if they want to join an election race. But they criticized prosecution investigations and quit their jobs to run as ruling party candidates. It is questionable if they seek to be lawmakers for protecting themselves from investigations rather than for the sake of voters.
Judges who resigned were progressives who criticized the Supreme Court in the days of the previous conservative government. Undoubtedly, judges can prefer political parties as individuals, but concerns about the judicial branch being politicized are inevitable.
A judge who raised power abuse allegations against the previous chief justice of the Supreme Court joined the ruling party Sunday. A senior judge who led a council of progressive judges resigned last week, and the ruling party reportedly asked him to join it.
Considering the judges urged judicial reform strongly in step with Moon’s drive to find fault with past governments, it is questionable if their calls were unbiased.
It is not right to take the issue uniformly with public officials resigning for political activities. But the ruling party deserves to be condemned for giving the impression that it has mobilized many public officials as its potential candidates. The former civil servants, too, deserve to be criticized for treating public service as a bridge to their political career. Now it is up to voters to separate the gems from pebbles.