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Speculation grows over Cabinet reshuffle, timing of Park’s apology

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Published : 2014-04-28 21:24
Updated : 2014-04-28 23:02

President Park Geun-hye works at the presidential office.  (Yonhap)
President Park Geun-hye is expected to carry out a major Cabinet reshuffle and deliver a public apology amid condemnation over the ferry disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing.

But the scale of the Cabinet reshuffle and the timing of her apology remain unknown, highlighting the difficulty Cheong Wa Dae faces in containing the fallout of the incident and regaining public trust.

Amid growing speculation over Park’s next move, political commentators and reports say the president will likely carry out a massive Cabinet overhaul soon after the nationwide local elections on June 4.

A reshuffle of key policymakers is expected to earn her some time to get the situation under control and come up with a list of candidates for major posts including that of prime minister.

Cabinet appointments will become a crucial task for Park, who has faced public criticism that her unexpected appointments appear to be made on a whim. Observers said it would likely take considerable time to pick suitable figures to regain public trust.

Some reports suggest she could appoint the new prime minister in late May and seek parliamentary approval after the June elections. The speculation comes after incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered to resign Sunday over the government’s response to the sinking of the Sewol.

Chung’s resignation could herald a large-scale reshuffle of Park’s administration, which is has been accused of a loose and amateur response to the ferry disaster. Park said she would accept his resignation on the condition that he would leave his post after the ferry disaster had been resolved.

Reports also say that the president is expected to make a public apology during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning. It is unknown whether she will issue a separate statement of apology or hold a press conference.

Some commentators say that Park needs to offer more than a simple apology for failing to ensure public safety. She will need to deliver a new vision on how to improve the government’s crisis management system to ensure that the problems that arose during the Sewol tragedy are not repeated.

The Korean government has come under fire for a lack of preventive efforts, a slow and ineffective initial response, and poor follow-up measures. The main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, on Sunday called on Park to apologize for the incident and console the victims’ families.

Members of both the main opposition party and the ruling party have suggested that the entire Cabinet should resign to take responsibility for failing to ensure public safety. However, such a mass resignation seems unlikely, as a simultaneous exit of all ministers leaving would cause an administrative vacuum and make it even harder for the government to resolve the ferry crisis.

Authorities said it would take at least one or two months to salvage the sunken vessel and complete the search for the missing passengers.

The question also remains on just how much Park will overhaul her ministerial line-up.

It will be difficult for the ministers of security, oceans and education to dodge criticism, as they were the most directly responsible for the events surrounding the ferry disaster.

President Park last week warned that she would strictly punish officials who are responsible for the accident regardless of their ranks.

Besides the three ministers, other high-ranking officials have been accused of insensitive comments as the nation grieves for the lives lost in the Sewol disaster.

National security adviser Kim Jang-soo came under fire after he said his national security office was “not the control tower” for handling disasters, and was focused on national defense and security. The comment contradicted the way Kim had been earlier portrayed as a main figure handling the situation.

Kim was said to have reported the ferry accident to the president and taken related measures.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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