Imminent Cabinet reshuffle brushed off

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Imminent Cabinet reshuffle brushed off

The office of President Park Geun-hye made a rare announcement Thursday that it will not reshuffle the Cabinet for some time, denying a media report that replacing ministers seeking to run in the April general election was imminent.

“We must concentrate on urgent economic bills and labor market reform bills before the end of the regular legislative session,” said Kim Sung-woo, senior public affairs secretary for the president. “That is the focus of the entire government. … In other words, there will be no Cabinet reshuffle for the time being.”

The current session is the last regular session of the 19th National Assembly; it will end Dec. 9.

The JoongAng Ilbo reported in its Thursday edition that three ministers would be replaced as early as yesterday, quoting a senior political source from the ruling circle.

“It is my understanding that vetting was already completed for three candidates,” he said on Wednesday. “The announcement will be made Thursday or Friday [today], at the latest.”

According to the source, Park planned to replace Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea, Gender Equality and Family Minister Kim Hee-jung and Minister of Interior Chong Jong-sup. Both Hwang and Kim are sitting Saenuri Party lawmakers, and Chong is seeking to run in the general election.

Chong held an urgent press conference on Sunday and offered to resign.

It was expected that Park would carry out a series of Cabinet reshuffles to set free politicians from her Cabinet ahead of next year’s election.

The president originally recruited five lawmakers in her Cabinet, and she previously carried out a minor reshuffle on Oct. 19 to replace Land Minister Yoo Il-ho, a two-term lawmaker, and Maritime Minister Yoo Ki-june, a three-term lawmaker.

The JoongAng Ilbo reported that Park would replace Hwang, Kim and Chong, while holding onto her economic ministers - Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan and Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Yoon Sang-jick - for some time. Choi is a three-term lawmaker and Yoon is looking to run in the next general election.

Following the report, Kim briefed journalists that there would be no imminent Cabinet reshuffle but did not deny that an overhaul would happen. It is rare for the Park administration to comment on the timing of Cabinet appointments.

Kim’s remark prompted speculation that a reshuffle would take place after Park’s upcoming trip abroad. The president will depart Saturday to attend a series of multilateral summits, including the G-20 Summit, and return to Korea on Nov. 23.

“I believe the reshuffle will take place when successors are decided and pending national issues are concluded,” said Kim, the senior public affairs secretary for the president, linking the Cabinet change with the legislative schedule.

The delayed Cabinet reshuffle is expected to pressure the ruling Saenuri Party to speed up its efforts to pass pending bills. To run in the upcoming general election, candidates must step down from their public offices by Jan. 13.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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