[VIEWPOINT]Reform cabinet? Apparently not

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[VIEWPOINT]Reform cabinet? Apparently not

President Kim Dae-jung has finally carried out a long-awaited reshuffle of his cabinet, pressured by a spate of scandals involving his wife's nephew and close Blue House aides. Contrary to expectations of intense public interest, the shake-up did not stir up much response. People just shrugged off the news, apparently with no strong feelings either way.

Even the Millennium Demo- cratic Party, which is trying to spur support before the presidential election through its experiment with a primary election to select a candidate, does not seem enthusiastic about the latest cabinet reorganization. Reform-minded ruling party members wonder why Mr. Kim chose to appoint Jeon Yun-churl as his chief of staff and Park Jie-won as a senior political adviser.

Looking at the new cabinet lineup, I wondered whether the Kim Dae-jung administration has run out of new talent. The pool on which it can draw consists mostly of Mr. Kim's long-time friends in opposition days and fellow Jeolla province politicians. Even at the beginning of the administration, that was a pond, not a sea, of talent. But it is not too late to look for talent outside of those groups. The public blames prosecutors for botching scandal investigations because of the revelations by the independent counsel appointed in the Lee Yong-ho case. But still, people are relieved to see that there are good investigators like the independent counsel and his staff. People with talent exist, but the president can't find them.

The problem is not about the persons who got jobs in the latest reshuffle but about the attitude of the president, who wants to muddle through the last year of his term with a disappointing cabinet. When the chief executive pledged his commitment to fight corruption and reform the government, people expected the launch of a whole new cabinet because that was what could calm the angry public.

I cannot sense any deep commitment by the president to reform his administration. In November, when President Kim stepped down as head of the ruling party, I expected him to form a new cabinet that would focus on running the government during his last year in office. But in the latest cabinet change, the president seems to have focused on maintaining the status quo rather than showing his determination to drive out corruption and institute clean politics.

For starters, it is hard to understand why the president let Prime Minister Lee Han-dong stay on; he said he did so in order to ensure stability in government. When Mr. Lee chose to remain on the job even after the partnership between President Kim and Kim Jong-pil collapsed, the talk of stability made some sense. In the current situation, however, I cannot understand why he should stay further. If the president could not name a completely new cabinet, he should have at least replaced the prime minister. It is more important in this political climate to soothe public sentiment with reform steps than to seek stability in the cabinet.

Another dubious matter is the meeting between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil, which coincided with the decision to keep Mr. Lee in the cabinet. If the meeting rekindles talks about a constitutional amendment to adopt a parliamentary cabinet system or about merging the MDP and Kim Jong-pil's United Liberal Democrats, that would put an end to the president's promise of political neutrality.

I would like to ask President Kim to practice some "deep-breathing politics." When he took his hands off the helm of the ruling party, many members were concerned about the party's future. As it turned out, the party is going its way just fine, using the president's resignation as an opportunity to reform itself. Since then, the president's popularity rose. That is just like the way a deep breath works: If you exhale all the air out of your lungs, new air will fill them. The president has a lot to "breathe out" if he is to transform Korean politics over the next year.


The writer is a professor of political science at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

by Lee Chung-hee

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