A new start for ParkPresident Park Geun-hye has replaced her chief of staff and four other senior secretaries at the Blue House after less than six months in office. The drastic reshuffling reflects her sense of crisis in national governance.
The presidential office is undoubtedly a so-called control tower for the government. But this administration has been under fire for its faulty appointment system from the start as seen in the president’s first appointment of Yoon Chang-jung as spokesman. Yoon was fired after allegedly sexually assaulting an intern during President Park’s first official trip to Washington in May. A big problem was also found in the way former chief of staff Huh Tae-yeol handled the Yoon fiasco.
The staff revamp is focused on aides who handle internal affairs, such as the chief of staff and presidential secretaries for civil affairs, political affairs, future strategies and employment and welfare. With the decision, President Park seems to be poised to start anew, especially on the domestic front. But doubts linger. The new chief of staff, 74-year-old Kim Ki-choon, a former minister of justice and three-term lawmaker, was directly involved in whipping up regional sentiments to help presidential candidate Kim Young-sam win the 1992 election. That will surely hurt President Park’s image as a politician cherishing principles and the law.
Kim served as legal secretary to President Park Chung Hee, as chairman of the board of a society to commemorate the late president, and as a member of the so-called Group of Seven Men, mentors of Park Geun-hye. While he can keep in tune with Park’s governance philosophy, he should also respond to critics who says he’s a yes-man. Park Joon-woo, the president’s pick for senior secretary for political affairs, has been a career diplomat with no experience in politics. We worry that his lack of political background backfires on the president.
As the reshuffling shows, the Park administration has gone through a series of trials in the last six months and made its errors. Park’s Blue House faces an avalanche of tough challenges ahead: the possibility of another military provocation from North Korea, conflicts with Japan, fights with opposition parties, low growth, snowballing fiscal deficits for the central and local governments, a persistent fuzziness on how to make a “creative economy” and lukewarm business investments.
The Blue House must recover its role as the control tower. Political battles will become fiercer as next June’s local elections approach. We hope the new presidential office weathers all storms.