Park reshuffles her Blue House

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Park reshuffles her Blue House


President Park Geun-hye yesterday partially reshuffled her senior secretariat, appointing a former lawmaker with decades of experience as a prosecutor as her new chief of staff.

Kim Ki-choon, a former three-term lawmaker who also served as justice minister and prosecutor-general, was named Park’s new presidential chief of staff. In addition to Kim, Park also filled a vacancy in the secretariat and replaced three aides.

Park Joon-woo, a diplomat retired after 30 years in the foreign service, was named the new presidential political affairs secretary.

The post has been vacant for about two months since Lee Jung-hyun was moved to senior public relations secretary. Speculation was high that Park would choose a political heavyweight to fill the vacancy, so her choice came as a surprise yesterday.

Hong Kyung-shik, a retired prosecutor with two decades of experience, was named the senior secretary for civil affairs, while Yoon Chang-bun, a telecommunications specialist and the former chairman of Hanaro Telecom, predecessor of the telecommunications company SK Broadband, was appointed senior secretary for future strategy.

Park also appointed Choi Won-young, former vice minister of health and welfare, as her new senior secretary for employment and welfare.

“The president decided to appoint new Blue House aides to more aggressively push forward policies,” said Lee, senior public relations secretary, yesterday.

For her new chief of staff, Park chose Kim for his experience, knowledge and competence in legislative, judicial and administrative fields as well as his wide contributions to society, Lee said. “He is a man with a sense of balance,” Lee said.

Yesterday’s Blue House reshuffle came as a surprise in general because Park is known to prefer working with people she knows and to keep them in their jobs as long as there is no critical problem.

As indicated by the Blue House, the reshuffle is aimed at a more aggressive pushing forward of Park’s agenda, particularly economic issues. In recent weeks, Park repeatedly expressed her disappointments at the slow progress in her economic campaigns when she met with her senior aides.

While her first chief of staff Huh Tae-yeol is still credited for contributing to the basic administrative framework of the Park Blue House, his moderate handlings of some sensitive issues including the Kaesong Industrial Complex standoff and the latest political scandal surrounding the National Intelligence Service’s alleged interference in last December’s presidential election reportedly clashed with Park’s stronger positions.

New chief of staff Kim, a 73-year-old native of Geoje, South Gyeongsang, is a long-time political ally of Park with decades of ties to her family.

After studying law at Seoul National University, he passed the bar exam in 1960 and started his career as a prosecutor with the Gwangju District Prosecutors’ Office. He served in key posts in the prosecution, specializing in high-profile political cases.

In 1974, he headed the anticommunist investigation bureau at the Korea Central Intelligence Agency, the predecessor to the National Intelligence Service. He also headed the public security team of the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office from 1980 until 1982, handling high-profile political cases.

After serving as prosecutor-general from 1988 to 1990 and justice minister from 1991 to 1992, he entered politics in 1996 by becoming a lawmaker of the Grand National Party, now the Saenuri Party. He was reelected twice to serve the National Assembly until 2008. From 1995 to 1996, he also served as president of the Korea Baseball Organization.

Kim’s ties with Park go back decades. Kim, a 34-year-old prosecutor at the time, interrogated Mun Se-gwang, the assassin of Park’s mother Yuk Young-soo, in 1974. Kim was also a recipient of a scholarship founded by Park’s father, Park Chung Hee.

He is also a member of the mentor group for Park, known as the Group of Seven Men. The group of seven senior advisors have supported Park since 2007 when she made her first, failed presidential bid.

While the ruling Saenuri Party generally supported Park’s reshuffle, the main opposition Democratic Party yesterday denounced her choice of new aides, particularly Kim.

“The Blue House should have explained first why it replaced the chief of staff only after a few months,” said Representative Kim Kwan-young, senior spokesman of the Democratic Party.

Kim then said the new chief of staff is a holdover from the past and the Democrats are skeptical about his ability to handle a contemporary presidential agenda.

The DP spokesman then questioned Park’s motive for hiring a politically sensitive man to head her Blue House amidst the ongoing scandal surrounding the National Intelligence Service’s alleged politicking to assist her in the December presidential election.

“When he was a prosecutor, Kim Ki-choon drafted the Yushin Constitution in 1972,” Kim Kwan-young said, referring to the constitutional amendment initiated by Park Chung Hee shortly he came to power. With the amending of the constitution in October 1972, Park extended his rule almost indefinitely.

“When he was a lawmaker, he was the legislative and judiciary committee chairman of the Grand National Party and led the impeachment against President Roh Moo-hyun,” DP spokesman Kim said. “Ahead of the 1992 presidential election, he - as justice minister - initiated the infamous politicking to fuel regionalism with major government office heads from Gyeongsang region.”

“Kim is a veteran of politicking and conspiracies and we are concerned that the appointment will fuel the current political crisis,” the DP spokesman said.

The Democrats also questioned the effectiveness of appointing a career diplomat as the senior political secretary of the Blue House. The DP said the role of the senior political secretary is extremely important for the president to effectively communicate with the opposition parties and the public, and a career diplomat with little experience in politics is unfit for the job.

Representative Lee Un-ju, spokeswoman of the DP, said Park’s choices in yesterday’s reshuffle reaffirmed her persistent high-handedness. “She doesn’t seem to care about the professional skills needed for the jobs or the importance of the posts,” Lee said.

Despite the DP’s strong criticisms, Park’s new chief of staff paid a visit to the DP leadership and asked for its cooperation, making it clear that his goal is to win the legislature’s support for the Park government’s policies in the coming months. Shortly after meeting with the ruling party leadership at the National Assembly, Kim went to the Democrats’ protest site at Seoul Plaza. They are protesting the ruling party’s foot-dragging in an assembly probe of the NIS and its behavior during last December’s presidential election.

After a short closed-door exchange with DP leaders including Chairman Kim Han-gill, Kim said “I came here to introduce myself as the new chief of staff. I told them the ruling and opposition parties should resolve this confrontation by dialogue and compromise as soon as possible.”

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