In with the old

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In with the old

Park Geun-hye, who will be sworn in as the president of Korea next week, has decided on who she wants to fill two-thirds of the senior posts in her administration. She has announced her nominees for cabinet members and key secretaries, including the chief of staff. We’re glad she finally got around to filling the ship before it sets sail.

She chose stable veterans for her crew. Of 18 candidates for her cabinet, including prime minister nominee Jung Hong-won, 12 are or were bureaucrats. Of the six presidential secretary nominees, five also came from the government or military. She chose a different recruitment style from her predecessors, who generally selected non-bureaucratic figures in the early stages to push ahead with campaign promises, then opted for experienced bureaucrats in the later stages for stability. Park said the new government would go straight to work once it takes office, implying she will waste no time in a honeymoon period.

Unfortunately, her appointments were a disappointment overall. They were incongruous with her earlier promises and will therefore generate little praise. She vowed balance and broadness in all government office appointments. But the line-up showed otherwise. She became the first president to name both a prime minister and chief presidential secretary from their same home region; in this case, Gyeongsang Province. No one from Gangwon or Jeju was included. The appointments also reflected no drive to tackle generational, ideological and class gaps. The brazen hard-line conservative names in the line-up stunned even the conservative camp. The average age of the presidential office and cabinet nominees, in the late 50s, is also older than previous administrations. A few candidates are children of senior government members who served under her father, authoritarian President Park Chung Hee.

Most come from strict organizations with top-down command mechanisms. This means the government will likely serve the president rather than the people. Critics are calling the line-up a grouping of obedient lightweights. It looks like the president’s lacking communication abilities may be further dampened rather than supplemented.

The appointment process underscored her shortcomings in the communication department as well as her inclination toward unilateralism. While announcing the names, the transition committee could not elaborate on their profiles, suggesting the appointments had been Park’s decision alone. She also pushed out her cabinet nominees even as her government reorganization proposal is still under review at the legislature. As opposition politicians pointed out, that means that she announced ministers for departments that don’t yet exist.

Park said that she will break away from old and outdated ways. But her appointments suggest that she is tied to them.

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