Weeding out cronyism

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Weeding out cronyism

Lee Myung-bak is facing a major turning point in his presidency. There will be no national elections until April 2012, when the next general election is held, which means that one of the biggest variables in governance will not occur for a considerable period of time.

With less than two months left before Aug. 25, the halfway point in his term, Lee has managed to get through two quagmires - the defeat in the local elections and the National Assembly’s rejection of the touted Sejong City project. However, having endured these two headaches, he now has a good opportunity to consolidate his administration for the rest of his term. In that sense, the planned reshuffle of his cabinet and the Blue House should be undertaken as soon as possible.

The president needs a new start. Unfortunately he has failed to show that he is ready for that. Instead, he has filled major government posts from a limited pool of personnel, including his presidential campaign staff. Furthermore, he has been reluctant to assign a substantial role to any one of them. For example, former Prime Minister Han Seung-soo was mostly responsible for diplomacy with the goal of securing natural resources from overseas, and his successor Chung Un-chan was largely limited to promotion of the Sejong project. Among government ministers or advisers at the Blue House, it is hard to find someone who has aggressively led a reform effort. The only exception would be Baek Yong-ho, current chief of the National Tax Service. Other top picks for four major posts - the military, the National Intelligence Agency, the prosecution and the police - have revealed their lack of expertise.

Though the prime minister’s role is limited in the presidential system, they can expand the radius of their activity, depending on the decisions made by the president. Prime ministers can reinforce their boss’s political leadership, strengthen the Cabinet’s centripetal force and coordinate relations with opposition parties.

As the administration enters the second half of its term, it is confronting a growing controversy over the concentration of power among a specific group of people from North Gyeongsang, the president’s home territory. The recent scandal over the Yeongpo Club, a small exclusive group from the area, is typical of such cronyism in the government.

The new Cabinet and Blue House staff face daunting challenges: stabilizing President Lee’s governance, dealing with the aftermath of the Cheonan incident and steering our economy out of the crisis.

We hope that Lee will take this opportunity to conduct an efficient reshuffle, weeding out corruption and cronyism in the process.
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