Park’s team loyal but not diverse

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Park’s team loyal but not diverse

President-elect Park Geun-hye yesterday completed the formation of her presidential office, and her hiring of longtime loyalists provoked mixed reactions.

While the ruling Saenuri Party threw its staunch support behind Park’s Blue House picks, the opposition parties criticized her for practicing a spoils system.

“The senior secretaries appointed today are experts with expertise and experience,” said Representative Min Hyun-joo, spokeswoman of the Saenuri Party. “We think they are capable of powerfully pushing forward the new administration’s policy pledges.”

Opposition politicians described Park as building a patronage system to keep state affairs under her thumb.

“She appointed Lee Jung-hyun, known as the closest among the close allies and a devoted aide, as her political affairs senior secretary,” said Representative Jung Sung-ho, spokesman of the Democratic United Party. “Along with the appointment of Huh Tae-yeol as presidential chief of staff, Park established a strong patronage system.”

Jung said this doesn’t bode well for the Park administration’s relationship with the opposition.

“Lee has shown a harsh and hard-line stance toward the opposition parties,” he said. “We wonder if he will really consider us a partner in affairs of the state.”

Park Yong-jin, another DUP spokesman, said Park apparently gave Lee the job because he had fought tooth and nail for her during the presidential election, even using vulgar words and insults against her opponent.

The minor opposition Progressive Justice Party criticized Park for a lack of balance in her appointments.

“The principle of balanced appointments has gone missing,” said Lee Ji-an, deputy spokesman of the Progressive Justice Party. “And she broke her pledge of working toward grand national unity.”

Lee expressed concerns that Park’s alleged patronage system will undermine the authority of the cabinet.

“Her intention to run the country with the Blue House at the center deserves respect,” Lee said. “But we are worried that the presidential secretariat will incapacitate the cabinet from the start of her presidency.”

A deeper look at the 12 senior aides in the Park Blue House, including her chief of staff and the presidential security service chief, showed that Park was seeking to build a presidential office that can work together smoothly to push her campaign pledges.

Among the 12 senior aides, five served in Park’s transition team to create the new administration’s state affairs road map based on her agenda and policy promises.

Park only hired two career politicians, Chief of Staff Huh and Senior Secretary of political affairs Lee, while choosing six elite officials who passed state exams to become civil servants, a diplomat and a prosecutor. Although Huh and Lee were seen as longtime political allies, observers said they assisted Park faithfully rather than playing roles as political heavyweights with their own voices.

While Park said during the campaign that she will promote national unity by seeking balance in her team among regions, alma maters and between men and women, her picks for the presidential secretariat favored certain regions and schools. No women made it into the Blue House senior secretariat.

Four of the 12 Blue House aides were from Gyeongsang, while three are from Jeolla, two from Seoul, two from Chungcheong and one from Gangwon.

Park chose five Sungkyunkwan University graduates to work at her presidential office, three from Seoul National University and two from the Korea Military Academy. Park’s picks for the cabinet and the presidential secretariat also connections to her father, late president Park Chung Hee.

Huh, Park’s appointee for the presidential chief of staff, served in her father’s political affairs office in the Blue House for five years from 1974. “I still get teary eyes when I think about the former president,” Huh has been quoted as saying in the past.

Choi Sung-jae Park’s employment and welfare senior secretary, is an alumnus of an elite dormitory at Seoul National University established by Park’s mother in 1968. The talented students selected to live there were given chances to visit the Blue House and meet with the first lady and Park, who was the first daughter at the time.

In the cabinet, Hyun Oh-seok, nominated to serve as economic deputy prime minister, participated in her father’s creation of a five-year economic development plan for the country in 1976. At the time, Hyun was serving at the Economic Planning Board and later he worked for the Korea Development Institute. Both were founded by Park Chung Hee.

Kim Byung-kwan, nominated to be Park’s defense minister, graduated at the top of his class in the Korea Military Academy in 1972 and Park’s father awarded him a prize. Recently, he faced criticism for having carried a mobile phone accessory that contained a photo of the late presidential couple.

Ryoo Kihl-jae, whom Park nominated as unification minister, is a son of Ryoo Hyung-jin. The elder Ryoo was the an advisor to the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, the highest decision-making organ of the country from the May 16, 1961 military coup by Park’s father until the inauguration of Park Chung Hee’s third republic of Korea in 1963.

Suh Seoung-hwan, land and transportation minister nominee, is a son of Suh Jyong-chul, the late president’s military academy senior and a participant in his coup. From 1973, the elder Suh served as defense minister for four years for Park’s father.


By Ser Myo-ja, Kim Jung-ha [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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