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Will Pres. Lee accept top gov`t honor before retiring?

Posted January. 11, 2013 06:02,   


“Should President Lee (Myung-bak) award the Grand Order of Mugunghwa to himself, or would it be better if he receives the award from the next President?” That is the question of the presidential office.

A source at the presidential office said Thursday that the presidential staff has not decided how and when the medal should be given. The Grand Order of Mugunghwa is the highest decoration awarded by the Korean government, which can go to the incumbent president and his or her spouse, or the current or previous head of allies and his or her spouse, according to the Awards and Decorations Act.

Customarily, the president receives the decoration at the inauguration of his or her successor. The final decision on the award is made by the chief executive after Cabinet deliberation, just as for other decorations.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun decided not to accept the award at his inauguration. Instead, he said he would “receive it upon my departure from office as a symbol of the people’s gratitude for my hard work over my five-year term,” and accepted the honor in January 2008 right before leaving office.

Similarly, President Lee has postponed the award ceremony. He refused the award right after the inauguration, saying to presidential staff, “It’s unthinkable for me to hold an award ceremony when a global economic crisis is coming.”

The situation has turned tricky, however, because his approval rate is not high. So if he decides to give the award to himself, he could aggravate public sentiment.

When Roh decided the decoration for himself and his wife, the Grand National Party, the predecessor of the ruling Saenuri Party, sarcastically said he was throwing "a family party."

A variety of jewels compose the Grand Order of Mugunghwa, ranging from gold and silver as main materials to amethyst and ruby. The decoration costs about 20 million won (19,000 U.S. dollars).

With the Korean economy faltering, the cost could affect public opinion. Worse, both the ruling and opposition parties criticize the president`s plan for a special pardon next month, adding more difficulty to the presidential office in deciding the time and manner of the award ceremony.

Under the circumstances, the presidential office is considering having President Lee receive the award from the next administration soon after its launch. Under the Awards and Decorations Act, only the incumbent president can get the decoration, so for him to receive it, the decision to give the award must be decided while he is still in office though the ceremony will be held by the next government. This idea, however, is not criticism-proof, either, because he can be seen going too far to get the award.

Another source at the presidential office said, “We will keep discussing holding a meaningful award ceremony befitting the president’s achievements, such as overcoming the global economic crisis and pushing forward with green growth agenda.”

President Lee has awarded the Grand Order of Mugunghwa to the United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, former Peruvian leader Alan Gabriel Ludwig Garcia Perez and other presidents as a form of business diplomacy.