[EDITORIALS]Replace, don't reshuffleThe public has long demanded that President Kim Dae-jung carry out a sweeping reshuffle of his cabinet. Adding to the pressure, people want the president to name a whole new cabinet after the recent spate of influence-peddling scandals involving senior Blue House officials, and expect strict investigations into those implicated in the scandals. Behind those expectations will be a strong public demand that the chief executive appoint people with both expertise and integrity to overcome the current political crisis and ensure political stability toward the end of his term. In short, the public wants the president to overhaul his administration in order to stabilize the economy and cement national harmony, not merely to soothe public anger and save face.
But predictions about the planned cabinet shake-up coming from Blue House officials remind us of the cynical evaluations of previous reshuffles, which led many people to believe that "cabinet changes don't change anything." That is because of the suggestion that Prime Minister Lee Han-dong would probably stay in the cabinet. When President Kim Dae-jung and his coalition partner, Kim Jong-pil, who was the leader of the United Liberal Democrats, broke up relations in September, the prime minister chose to stay, although he owed his position to the United Liberal Democrats leader. His attitude left many Koreans with an unpleasant memory of turncoat politics. That is why a new cabinet, of which Mr. Lee would continue to be the head, does not live up to public expectations.
Some government officials give credit to Lee Han-dong for taking control of the bureaucracy. It may be difficult for a president in the last year of his tenure to find the right man for the post of prime minister. But such an excuse would fuel the criticism that President Kim employs only those who he is familiar with and trusts, not trying hard enough to scout competent people. If the public is to readily participate in President Kim's initiative for a "national prosperity," he should name a whole new cabinet. In that sense, letting Mr. Lee stay is a bad idea. It would only prompt a flood of criticism that President Kim is not taking seriously enough the unprecedented political crisis and growing public resentment.
The president should also overhaul his staff of Blue House aides, who have shown serious problems in coordinating government policies and assisting the president's leadership. The alleged involvement of his closest aides, such as Lee Ki-ho, Shin Kwang-ok and Park Joon-yung in scandals, have marred the image of the Blue House. President Kim should also consider reforming the National Intelligence Service. Here also it is not desirable for the president to reinstate other close aides who were at the center of political scandals in the past.
There is no doubt that ministers from the governing Millennium Democratic Party should be replaced to ensure the new cabinet's political neutrality ahead of the gubernatorial and mayoral elections in June, and the presidential election in December. Ministers who have caused problems with their policies should also leave the cabinet.
If the upcoming cabinet reshuffle falls short of public expectation, people will grow increasingly cynical about the Kim Dae-jung administration and suspect that the shake-up was intended to turn the public's attention away from the many scandals. The reshuffle is the current administration's last chance to prove its determination and ability to run the country.