President Park Geun-hye appointed Lee Byung-kee, head of the National Intelligence Service, as the new Blue House chief of staff, inviting criticism for yet another revolving door appointment.
Known as a close associate of Park who was part of her 2007 presidential campaign team, Lee was chosen to head the NIS last July amid calls for a complete overhaul of the spy agency. Previous to that appointment, he served as Korea’s ambassador to Japan.
The appointment completes the personnel reshuffle that Park mentioned during her New Year’s press conference on Jan. 12. In the meantime, Park has appointed Lee Wan-koo as Prime Minister, nominated four ministers and carried out a small-scale reshuffle of the Blue House staff.
The new chief of staff faces a formidable challenge. Park is known to have been very satisfied with Kim Ki-choon, refusing to replace him despite mounting calls for his resignation. During the New Year’s press conference, Park singled out Kim in expressing her highest regard for his personal integrity. Indeed, Kim’s shoes will be hard to fill in this respect.
Then there is the public expectation placed on Lee as Kim’s replacement. Although Kim enjoyed Park’s utmost confidence, many in the public thought he fell short on many accounts. Kim was seen as slow to respond, uncommunicative and unable to speak directly to Park. The Blue House document leak last year, political watchers claim, spiraled out of control as Kim allowed the matter to simmer for months without taking decisive action. The succession of personnel appointment failures that the Park administration suffered is also blamed on Kim.
In short, the public wants a Blue House chief of staff who is very different from Kim. Indeed, Lee’s role may be very different from the one that Kim played. While Park entrusted Kim with great powers not only within the Blue House but also in the government and the ruling Saenuri Party, Lee’s role may be limited to that of assisting and advising the president.
Such changes may bode well for Lee, who will not be burdened with undue authority. The Blue House will also benefit from a more open exchange of ideas and opinions. Kim’s reign as chief of staff was seen as stifling; it is hoped that Lee will bring a much needed air of change to the Blue House.
The fact that the new appointment comes 10 days after Kim officially resigned from his post is indicative of the difficulties Park must have had in finding a new person. This appointment is Lee’s third since Park came to office in February 2013.
Park has disappointed the public with yet another revolving door appointment. She is also sending the wrong message to the NIS by selecting its leader as her chief of staff just seven months after she put him in charge of reforming the NIS and Lee vowed to put an end to the spy agency’s political meddling.