June polls see many former bureaucrats in ranks

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June polls see many former bureaucrats in ranks

About one out of three candidates running for gubernatorial, mayoral and education superintendent posts in the upcoming local elections are former bureaucrats, statistics yesterday revealed.

Twenty-two out of 62 candidates who have either been confirmed by their political parties to run in the June 4 polls for those upper-level positions or are preliminary candidates were former prime ministers, deputy ministers and other higher government officials.

Five of them are former ministers. Kim Hwang-sik, who is running in the Seoul mayoral race as one of three candidates from the ruling Saenuri Party, served as prime minister under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration. And Kim Jin-pyo, who is bidding for the Gyeonggi governorship from the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), is the ex-deputy prime minister of economy and education.

Two candidates are also former deputy ministers.

Lee Choon-hee, who has been selected by the NPAD to run in the Sejong mayoral race, served as vice minister of construction and transportation, whereas Jung Chang-soo, whose candidacy will be decided by the Saenuri on April 20, was the former deputy minister of land, infrastructure and transport.

A running gag in many local communities is that the number of bureaucrats running in the elections is so high this time around that they could easily form their own miniature cabinet.

The North Chungcheong gubernatorial race will see two former bureaucrats go head to head.

The NPAD’s Lee Si-jong, the incumbent governor running for re-election, who served as the local planning bureau head at the Ministry of Home Affairs (now the Ministry of Security and Public Administration) under the Kim Young-sam administration, will compete against the Saenuri Party’s Yoon Jin-shik, who was the minister of trade, industry and energy in 2003 and became the presidential secretary for economic affairs under the Lee Myung-bak administration.

But some political observers say that what often makes former bureaucrats influential candidates in local elections is the halo effect afforded to them.

In Korea, those who want to obtain a mid-level position in a government department or agency must pass a highly demanding state-led exam that typically selects only the best and brightest among graduates from prestigious schools.

“Given that administrative capability is crucial when voters are considering their local government leaders, former top government officials have a positive image,” said Cho Jin-man, a professor of politics and diplomacy at Duksung Women’s University in Seoul.

However, some academics warn of the drawbacks of bureaucrats turned local government leaders.

“Bureaucrats have no choice but to work toward maintaining the status quo,” said Um Ki-hong, professor of politics and diplomacy at Kyungpook National University. “They can be less proactive than nonbureaucrats, who drive change by adopting innovative policies.”

BY CHAE BYUNG-GUN, SEO JI-EUN [mfemc@joongang.co.kr]

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