[EDITORIALS]Personnel Choices Raise QuestionsUnpredictable events occurred during the recent political turmoil surrounding the cabinet shakeup Friday. The cabinet reshuffle was carried out after Prime Minister Lee Han-dong decided to remain in the Kim Dae-jung administration, and Han Kwang-ok, the Blue House chief of staff, was inserted informally as chairman of the ruling party. By all measures the cabinet change has proceeded in haste ever since the ruling party took the first misstep of leaving Prime Minister Lee Han-dong in his position. Therefore the ruling party lineup and the cabinet looks awkward. As would be expected, this decision has left negative effects.
The first bad effect is public criticism. Many people expected President Kim to cooperate and open talks with the opposition party and initiate reorganization of the ruling party and the government to overcome the difficulties after the collapse of the DJP ruling coalition put the president's party in the minority ranks.
There were talks inside the ruling party that there would be dramatic personnel changes to gain public support. However, Prime Minister Lee Han-dong's maneuver to remain in the ruling party, which defies political principles, and the Blue House chief of staff entering the party leadership cast a deep shadow over expectations.
The ruling party said President Kim's recent decision was made to overcome the difficulties of a minority party. The opposition party can reject the appointment of a new prime minister selected by the president. And the ruling party emphasizes that the "Lee Han-dong and Han Kwang-ok" order is necessary to take control of presidential hopefuls within the party.
However, winning the support of the public is hard to do. Currently, the National Assembly representatives of the ruling party cannot give in on this decision, which is becoming a seed of distrust inside the party. The opposition from first-term National Assembly representatives who say this decision is against political reforms and democratization inside the party is the equivalent of criticizing the president for creating a system of direct control of party affairs by the president. The Blue House chief of staff, Han Kwang-ok, is known for political flexibility and accepts compromise. However, whether he can soothe the disappointment of some ruling party members is an unknown.
The aftereffects are aggravating the political instability. The United Liberal Democrats announced a frontal attack on the DJ administration by expelling Lee Han-dong, and the Grand National Party attributed the recent personnel decision as a product of personal obstinacy. The opposition party harbors doubts that the order of "Lee Han-dong and Han Kwang-ok" was established to reorganize political circles. That the current political wrangling, which started from the incident at the Liberation Day festival held in Pyongyang, is going exactly opposite of the people's wishes should be deplored.
The shuffle of five ministers is a makeshift measure. The ruling party is insisting on the need to maintain consistency in the implementation of government policies, but the recent cabinet shuffles do not seem to be a measure that will renovate political circles. Especially, appointing National Tax Office Commissioner Ahn Jung-nam as Minister of Construction and Transportation is irrelevant. In changing the minister of construction, professionalism was the first attribute considered in view of recent downgrading of air safety ratings by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Mr. Ahn does not meet the requirements. Moreover, handpicking an official in the center of the press tax probe controversy will certainly precipitate adverse effects.
Personnel affairs are a means of the nation's ruler to manage the government by persuading the opposition party and promoting policies. But the recent cabinet shuffle leaves the impression that a system of direct rule by the president is being created. President Kim must have settled on the lineup after deliberation on how to manage the party and government during the last stage of the administration, but it is already having negative effects on the ruling party.