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Election blues at Blue House

The ruling party’s electoral defeat depressed President Lee Myung-bak’s chief of staff Yim Tae-hee enough for him to offer to resign Thursday, signaling another round of post-election reshuffling of presidential aides and Cabinet ministers.

Yim told Lee that he and his staff are always ready to take “infinite responsibility” for anything to fully assist the president, a senior Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters, suggesting the presidential chief of staff was prepared to quit after 10 months in office.

In addition to the planned nominations of new Cabinet ministers, Lee may sack some of his senior secretaries including Yim, should the ruling bloc choose to go to great lengths to help win over voters ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections next year.
President Lee Myung-bak walks down the steps to greet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap News)
President Lee Myung-bak walks down the steps to greet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap News)

Yim’s predecessor Chung Chung-kil had offered to step down a day after the GNP’s defeat in last year’s local elections in June. Yim, then labor minister and three-term legislator of the Bundang-B constituency, took over a month later, giving up his seats in the National Assembly and the Cabinet.

Yim, however, reportedly made Lee raise an eyebrow by overriding the GNP’s candidate selection process for the by-election in Bundang-B.

Yim, or at least his wife, backed former GNP leader Kang Jae-up to run on his home turf while confidants of Chung Un-chan, former professor-turned-prime minister, told the media that the president suggested Chung run there.

Chung, who had been tapped as a potential presidential contender by both ruling and opposition parties for years, was removed from the picture in March after disgraced former art professor Shin Jeong-ah claimed in her autobiography that the former president of Seoul National University made inappropriate advances to her.

Kang ran on the GNP’s ticket in Bundang, but lost the GNP’s stronghold to the main opposition Democratic Party leader Sohn Hak-kyu, who is expected to throw his hat in the ring once again for the presidential race next year.

Sohn’s victory over Kang, therefore, meant more than just a loss of another parliamentary seat to the ruling bloc. The GNP also lost the governorship of Gangwon Province, another traditional stronghold, to the DP on Wednesday.

Lee advised his top aides Thursday morning to take the ruling party’s defeat in the April 27 by-elections seriously as he prepares to replace some of his Cabinet ministers.

“We must take the message from the people with gravity and fear,” Lee was quoted as saying by his aide for public affairs Hong Sang-pyo during a meeting with his senior secretaries.

“We should turn this into an opportunity for the government and the ruling party to renew ourselves.”

Lee said he believes that in a bigger context, Koreans have always voiced the right thing through elections.

“We did our best, but it is a fact that many Koreans are not satisfied. I believe that, in a broader context, the people’s opinion (shown by the votes) has always been right,” Lee said, according to Hong.

“We should humbly review what we lacked and accept the people’s thoughts in a grave manner.”

Hong declined to comment about the timing or the magnitude of the planned Cabinet reshuffle.

Citing a senior Cheong Wa Dae official, a vernacular newspaper reported that Lee was set to replace about five ministers no later than next week.

Those most likely to be replaced are ministers of finance, land, agriculture, environment and unification.

Presidential chief of policy staff and ex-head of the National Tax Service Baek Yong-ho and Baek’s predecessor Rep. Yoon Jin-shik of the ruling Grand National Party are shortlisted for the finance minister’s post, Chosun Ilbo reported.

The Lee administration’s first presidential chief-of-staff and currently ambassador to China Yu Woo-ik is reportedly the strongest candidate for Lee’s next top point man on North Korea.

Lee also said that his government will continue to concentrate on creating more jobs and revitalizing the economy for the working class, according to Hong.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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