Disappointing reshufflePresident Park Geun-hye nominated Lee Wan-koo, floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, as her new prime minister and changed some members on the presidential staff. Lee has long been expected to move to the government. He was recruited before his term ended as floor leader in May as the president hopes to restore ties with the political sector and gain traction in governance as she enters the third year of her five-year term with her lowest-ever approval rating.
The reshuffle comes amid an unending scandal involving the leak of a confidential Blue House internal report on alleged string-pulling by aides of the president and signs of strife and tension between the ruling party leader and staff of the presidential office.
Recent polls showed the approval rating of the president plunging to new low after a totally separate outcry by taxpayers over larger 2014 tax bills.
The reshuffle is timely, but its details are disappointing. Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon and three controversial secretaries, who have been nicknamed “doorknobs” because they control access to the president, remain in their posts. The three secretaries - Jeong Ho-seong, Lee Jae-man and Ahn Bong-geun - all stayed in the presidential office with small adjustments of their responsibilities. The president during a New Year press conference said she did not intend to replace them because their names had been cleared in a prosecution probe. The opposition criticized the reshuffle, saying it failed to respond to public expectations. It remains unclear how Park hopes to renew support from the legislature and public through such ineffectual gestures.
The role of the prime minister-designate is crucial. Lee, a confidant of the president, is a three-time lawmaker who also served as governor of South Chungcheong province. He is known to have strong connections with people in various sectors and the trust of the opposition party. In announcing the choice, the Blue House said Lee was qualified to push ahead with economic reforms, restore order in the bureaucratic community and communicate with the people. Lee should not limit himself to the usually ceremonial role of prime minister. In an acceptance statement, Lee said he will deliver the public’s voice to the president and speak frankly on state affairs. The Blue House should humbly pay heed to public criticism and respond with follow-up actions to set the presidential house in order.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 24, Page 30