Tensions between Moon Jae-in and his successor Yoon Suk-yeol
by Guido Alberto Casanova

South Korea’s outgoing president and his successor have not yet met for the handover in May. The two disagree over appointments to government positions and a possible pardon for former President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative who is currently in jail. They have also clashed over Yoon's desire to move the presidential residence.

Milan (AsiaNews) – South Korea’s presidential transition is turning out to be far more complex than expected.

Although elections were held more than two weeks ago, President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative, and the outgoing president, Moon Jae-in, a democrat, have not yet met. This is the first time in the country's history.

The two were expected to get together on 16 March but the meeting was cancelled at the last moment, ostensibly for organisational problems, but no details were provided.

Yoon is expected to take office on 10 May, but disagreements with the outgoing administration are complicating the handover.

During the election campaign, Yoon had been very hard on Moon and his government, suggesting even that if he became president, he would launch a corruption probe into Moon’s administration.

With the elections behind him and the conservatives in power, Yoon spoke in favour of a government of national unity and a possible political thaw. Things have turned out quite differently.

According to various reports in South Korean media, the delay of the ritual meeting seems to be due to differences over former conservative president Lee Myung-bak and the upcoming appointments of some public officials.

Yoon wants Moon to pardon Lee, who is serving a 17-year sentence. According to the president-elect, this decision, in addition to pleasing his own electoral base, would also be a step towards national reconciliation.

However, understandably Moon's Democrats are reluctant (since such a step would be to the advantage of the conservatives), leading some to speculate that negotiations for a double pardon is underway for Lee and liberal politician Kim Kyoung-soo.

The issue of appointments is even more pressing. The conservative committee leading the transition wants to be involved in the selection of officials for those public offices that need to be renewed before the new head of state takes office.

The presidential office made it clear that Moon will not give up his prerogatives before the end of his term, but Yoon's transition team noted the conservatives' interest in the appointments.

“The personnel Moon will appoint now are the people the new president will work with, not the president who is about to retire,” spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said.

The post of governor of the central bank is among the public offices at stake. On Wednesday, Moon picked Rhee Chang-yong, which has become front-page news.

On the one hand, conservatives complain that the outgoing administration did not consult them; on the other, the presidential office noted that the choice was made with the consent of Yoon’s transition team.

The touchiest issue however is Yoon’s desire to transfer the presidential office. The president-elect announced that he does not want to live in the Blue House, the traditional residence of the president, but wants to be closer to the people, working instead from the Defence Ministry compound.

However, Yoon’s plan to move in right after taking office has left the Defence Ministry in a quandary; relocating on such a short notice will be a hard task, especially at a time of heightened tensions and security concerns on the Korean Peninsula.

Moon criticised the plan as being excessively rushed and refused to release the funds for the office relocation.

So far, the meeting between the two has not yet been rescheduled and the conflict between Yoon and Moon appears to be getting more and more intense.