Park may delegate more power to new PM

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Oct 31, 2016 - 17:01
  • Updated : Oct 31, 2016 - 17:56

President Park Geun-hye, after partly reshuffling her secretariat in the aftermath of the Choi Soon-sil scandal, reserved judgment Monday on how to reorganize the Cabinet.

While the president is said to be leaning toward the reinforcement of prime ministerial authority under the current system, talks are still ongoing over the idea of constituting a new “neutral Cabinet.” Either way, recommendations on the next prime minister are pouring out from political circles, especially from the ruling Saenuri Party.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye (Yonhap)
“President Park is listening to the opinion from various social standings (on whether to constitute a neutral Cabinet or to adopt a responsible prime minister system),” the Blue House spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk told reporters Monday.

The state leader, after a close-door meeting with the Saenuri’s senior members earlier, continued to meet with civic society figures and scholars over the weekend so as to gather their thoughts on the current circumstances.

The neutral Cabinet, a term brought forward by incumbent Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and the ruling camp, refers to a comprehensive government structure which is not affiliated to a specific political party. Under such a system, it is likely that the main opposition party may have the right to name a prime minister.

The concept, which inevitably involves the weakening of the presidential power, is usually considered an alternative governance which may only be adopted in state emergency situations.

“The adoption of the neutral Cabinet effectively means the suspension of the presidential power,” said Shin Yul, professor of politics at Myongji University.

But the idea of such a powerful Cabinet is largely limited by the nation’s Constitution, which states that the Cabinet is to “assist the president” and to “govern the administration under the order of the president.”

The “responsible prime minister” system, on the other hand, is an abridged version of the neutral Cabinet as it merely reinforces the prime minister’s powers within the current frame of president-centered governance.

While the two options stand at odds, Cheong Wa Dae has so far been largely against the idea of a neutral Cabinet, citing the possibility of political chaos.

“It is undesirable to bring together (rival parties) which hold very different ideas and policies,” Park had said in a lunch meeting with media chiefs in April.

The time and extra effort needed to completely overhaul the current Cabinet is another roadblock for the presidential office, which would rather wrap up its personnel reforms and resume the suspended state affairs.

“The president will embrace the gist of the neutral Cabinet proposal,” a ranking official of Cheong Wa Dae told reporters Monday.

“But as the neutral Cabinet plan contains various controversies, it is likely that (Park) will choose the responsible prime minister system, which effectively takes on the core features of the neutral Cabinet system.”

One of the plausible candidates for the prime ministerial post is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho, who in turn is likely to be succeeded by the Finance Services Commission chairman Yim Jong-yong.

The Saenuri’s list of suggestions included Kim Chong-in, a former economic adviser to Park who moved to the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea. Kim is largely considered to be relatively neutral politically, sympathetic to both reform-leaning conservatives and mild progressives.

Others were Sohn Hak-kyu, former chief of the Minjoo camp, and Kim Byong-joon, professor at Kookmin University, who had served the former liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Professor Kim, when asked about the possibility of a neutral Cabinet, had answered that it was a valid opportunity to test a semi-presidential system before moving onto a constitutional revision.

None of the aforementioned candidates, however, have confirmed receiving an official offer from the administration or if they would accept such a call.

By Bae Hyun-jung (