Lee vows to review policy priorities after election defeatChastened by his governing party's crushing defeat in the nationwide elections two weeks ago, President Lee Myung-bak pledged Monday to review policy priorities and revamp his Cabinet system, but hinted at no change in his hard-line stance on North Korea.
"I take seriously the public sentiment shown through the elections this time," Lee said in a televised speech, breaking his long silence on the results of the June 2 local elections widely seen as a mid-term referendum on Lee's performance. "From now on, I will listen to the voice of change the people want."
The president said he will reshuffle the presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, and the Cabinet, as well as reset policy priorities as part of efforts to strengthen his "centrist pragmatic campaign friendly to low- and middle-income households."
"I will reorganize Cheong Wa Dae and the Cabinet more effectively and draw up a line-up to be suitable for it," he added.
He fell short of specifying a timeline for his plans, while Cheong Wa Dae insiders said the change of senior presidential secretaries is expected to be made next month. They said the Cabinet shake-up will be conducted after the parliamentary by-elections slated for July 28.
On his controversial push to create a business hub in the central city of Sejong instead of an originally proposed administrative town, Lee hinted at the so-called exit strategy.
"I ask the National Assembly to decide on the issue," he said, demanding lawmakers vote on the revision bill during the ongoing parliamentary session.
"The government will respect a decision made by the National Assembly through voting," he said.
Chances are high that the bill will be voted down as even dozens of ruling party lawmakers are opposed to it.
But Lee made clear a plan to press ahead with another contentious national project to restore the country's four major rivers, even though he promised more efforts to collect public opinions.
The government launched the 22-trillion-won (US$19 billion) project last November to clean and refurbish the four rivers -- the Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan -- in a bid to help prevent floods and attract tourists. Critics say it would only devastate the environment and ecosystem.
The speech represented an effort to recast Lee's presidency as it nears a turning point, but heralded no shift in his tough stance toward North Korea that is accused of torpedoing and sinking a South Korean naval ship in March, killing 46 sailors.
"All of the other things may become a subject of political fight but national security can't be that," he said. Similar incidents can happen any time if South Korea and the international community fail to deal sternly with the communist regime's wrongdoings, he added.
The Grand National Party (GNP), which holds a majority in the National Assembly, won only six of the 16 mayoral and gubernatorial posts up for grabs in the elections. It also lost many of the races to select the heads of local education boards and members of local councils.
The main opposition Democratic Party has been stepping up a political offensive against the Lee government, demanding a full-scale reorganization of the Cabinet that will affect Prime Minister Chung Un-chan and many of Cabinet members.
Reform-minded GNP officials, mostly first-term lawmakers, have also called for the president to replace key Cheong Wa Dae officials, saying it is a way to win back voters.
The president said he is still contemplating details of how to operate his government in the latter half of his five-year presidency.
He is expected to elaborate on his new policy plan when he delivers his Independence Day speech on Aug. 15 to commemorate Korea's liberation from Japan's colonial rule. Lee's tenure ends in February 2013. [YONHAP]