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[Editorial] Devotion to work

Park should be firm on ministers with election plans

Asked by a reporter last week whether she would run in next April’s parliamentary election, Gender Equality and Family Minister Kim Hee-jung replied to the effect that she felt no need to answer a self-evident question. Her response was seen as a clear indication that she would quit her ministerial job to campaign for a seat in the National Assembly.

Kim, a ruling party lawmaker, might have felt embarrassed when President Park Geun-hye told Cabinet members Tuesday to put aside their personal pursuits and devote themselves to reinvigorating the economy, pushing for key reform tasks. In the weekly Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, she said it was time for all ministries to join forces to deal with state affairs.

Besides Kim, four other ministers with a seat in the parliament might also have felt pressured by Park’s remarks. They include Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan and Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea, who concurrently serve as deputy prime ministers for economic and social affairs, respectively.

Park issued her first warning to Cabinet members pursuing what she described as a personal path early this month. But speculation has continued to mount over whether and when the ministers with parliamentary seats would quit their posts and return to the ruling Saenuri Party to prepare for the forthcoming election.

Some of them have been criticized for spending more time in their constituencies than at their offices and avoiding implementing policies opposed by interest groups.

With her five-year tenure about to pass the halfway point, Park is running short of time to carry through her key agenda for the country‘s economic reinvigoration and reforms in finance, labor, education and the public sector. Certainly, she cannot afford to let some ministers in charge of such crucial tasks be distracted by political calculations. It will also be hard to tighten discipline in the officialdom when key Cabinet members -- including the two deputy prime ministers -- are likely to return to politics sooner or later.

Park now needs to take more resolute measures than simple warnings.

She should persuade the ministers with parliamentary seats to stay in the Cabinet throughout her tenure if she sees their administrative roles as essential. Otherwise, she ought to dismiss them from their ministerial posts and choose their successors from a wider pool of figures with expertise and experience.

An aide to Park described her remarks at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting as both a warning and a request that the ministers should focus on their job for the time being, even if they eventually decide to run in the election. This ambiguous stance is of no help in mustering all administrative capabilities to resolve thorny tasks facing the nation.

Park may also have to go out of her way to ensure other senior administration officials, who are said to be considering running in the parliamentary election, will adhere to their work.
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