President tightens grip with reshuffle

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 13, 2014 - 21:47
  • Updated : Jun 13, 2014 - 21:47
President Park Geun-hye replaced seven ministers on Friday, completing several weeks of personnel shake-ups to salvage public trust in the government and move on from the ferry disaster.

Park appointed Rep. Choi Kyoung-hwan, a political heavyweight and one of her closest aides, as deputy prime minister in charge of economics. Choi replaces Hyun Oh-seok, the first finance minister under the Park government, who came under fire for making a series of inappropriate remarks and mishandling contentious economic issues.
Deputy prime minister Choi Kyoung-hwan. (Yonhap)

The president also named Kim Myung-soo, a professor at Korea National University of Education, the new education minister, who will serve as second deputy premier in charge of social affairs. Last month, Park said she would name a new education minister to handle broad social issues including education, culture and safety to better deal with national crises in the wake of the Sewol disaster. The April 16 ferry sinking left more than 300 people dead or missing, most of whom were high school students on a school excursion to Jejudo Island.

Park also named Chong Jong-sup, a professor of law at Seoul National University, the new public administration minister; Choi Yang-hee, a computer engineering professor at Seoul National University, the minister of science, ICT and future planning; and Chung Sung-keun, president of Arirang TV, the minister of culture, tourism and sports.

For the new labor and gender equality ministers, Park picked former vice labor minister Lee Ki-kweon and Saenuri lawmaker Kim Hee-jeong.

Meanwhile, the president said she will retain Maritime Minister Lee Joo-young, despite his repeated offer to step down from his post to take responsibility for the government’s poor response to the ferry disaster. Lee will keep his job because the president believes that naming a new maritime minister is “undesirable for the families of the Sewol victims” as the disaster is not resolved yet.

The major reshuffle of her Cabinet members completed a series of personnel shake-ups of the nation’s top officials that began with the nomination of a new prime minister last month.

In May, Park nominated Ahn Dae-hee, a former star prosecutor, for prime minister to lead her reform drive and eradicate corrupt practices in public offices. But Ahn withdrew from the nomination amid spiraling accusations that he received favors by taking advantage of his prosecutorial career. Ahn’s withdrawal forced the president to make a second choice. In a surprising move, she picked former journalist Moon Chang-keuk as her new nominee early this week followed by the replacement of four senior presidential secretaries on Thursday.

The reshuffle is seen as an attempt to pull out of the political crisis sparked by the Sewol tragedy. Public anger mounted against the government’s mishandling of the disaster but also against Park’s insensitive remarks and attitude toward the victims’ families.

Observers say that Park may have tried to expand communication channels with the public by placing politicians from her party and veteran journalists in the top positions of her government.

In her new Cabinet, Park will have four aides who worked in her presidential election camp and the ruling Saenuri Party. Gender Equality Minister Cho Yoon-sun and Rep. Ahn Chong-bum of the ruling party were named senior secretaries for political and economic affairs, respectively. Cho was Park’s spokeswoman for her campaign and also for the transitional team formed after she won the election in late 2012.

On Tuesday, Park nominated Moon, a former political correspondent at the JoongAng Ilbo, one of major newspapers here, as prime minister. Moon is the first journalist to be nominated for the nation’s highest unelected post in the country’s modern history. The prime minister nominee will have to pass parliamentary approval.

Cheong Wa Dae on Friday submitted a bill to seek the National Assembly’s approval of Moon. But it remains unclear whether the former journalist will take office, as he came under fire for past controversial remarks in lectures. Speaking at a church event Moon claimed Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula and the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War were God’s will, touching off a wave of critical responses.

By Cho Chung-un (