Go to contents

[Opinion] Moon Jae-in, “The President’s Man”

Posted March. 10, 2007 07:45,   


Ahead of the 1997 presidential election, Roh Moo-hyun, an ex-lawmaker in a political faction named “Tongchu” at the time, consulted his associates as he was considering joining the race after being spurred by the candidacy declaration of Rhee In-je, a former Gyeonggi Province Governor. Roh claimed that he would be the right person to symbolize the generational change of politics that was highly demanded by the public, but his hopes looked unattainable, considering his political career and reputation. It was Moon Jae-in, a lawyer in law firm Busan at the time, who finally dissuaded Roh from running. Despite the age gap of seven years between them, they have been very close since their first meeting in the early 1980s when they were working together as advocates.

In the 2002 election, Moon supported Roh by heading his Busan camp, and became a Cheong Wa Dae staff member the following year, as his friend was inaugurated as president. He had served as senior secretary for civil affairs and senior secretary for civic and social agendas, and again as senior secretary for civil affairs until he left the presidential office in May of last year. He was set to sell his residence in Seoul and return to Busan to open a law office, but the president did not let go. He appointed Moon in October as special advisor for political affairs and has finally promoted him to the new presidential chief of staff. It is understandable why Moon is dubbed “the President’s man.”

It is said that the relationship between Roh and Moon is more a horizontal partnership than a vertical one. Rumors had been widespread early on that Moon would be seated as chief of staff in the incumbent’s last year of tenure. It has been said that no one fit the post better in terms of loyalty or intimacy to the president, aspects that are highly demanded to maintain the discipline of an office approaching its time to close. Experts say that Moon’s original aspiration was to be a Supreme Court justice and that he has a humble character. Accordingly, he has behaved very well and has few political ambitions.

The primary duty of the chief of staff is to advise the president and supervise his subordinates. If the president’s counsels recklessly make remarks or write articles before the public, the resulting political burden becomes that of the president. It is also Moon’s role to report the public opinions directly to the president so that he can make correct decisions and to provide him the best advice for personnel affairs. He must refrain from making comments that could possibly spark debates such as the contentious “Busan regime” remark last year. The election is at hand, and the president is about to leave. It is without question that the chief of staff should also keep himself from causing any trouble.

Lee Jin-nyong, Editorial Writer, jinnyong@donga.com