President Moon Jae-in, whose job approval ratings fell again to the lowest this week, is seeking to turn his political fortunes around with a sizeable change in his Cabinet makeup, according to Cheong Wa Dae sources on Monday.
The pending reshuffle is expected to involve senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Choi Jae-sung, Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki.
Choi had allegedly offered his resignation following the crushing election defeat of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea last week, while Chung is also widely expected to step down following his trip to Iran over the release of a seized South Korean vessel. He is reportedly preparing for his bid for presidency next year.
Hong, one of the longest-serving Cabinet members and also deputy prime minister for the economy, is also likely to be replaced, along with other ministers, including the troubled Land Minister Byeon Chang-heum.
“The reshuffle is pending as part of efforts to revamp state affairs following the election defeat,” said a Cheong Wa Dae official on condition of anonymity. “Considering next week’s parliamentary interpellation schedule, new presidential aides will be announced soon this week.”
The Cabinet reshuffle comes amid the president’s falling poll numbers, an alarming development for the president who is entering his final year in office in May.
In a recent poll by Realmeter released Monday, the president’s approval rating tumbled to a new low of 33.4 percent, down 1.2 percentage points from a week ago. His disapproval rating increased 0.5 percentage points to the highest-ever at 62.9 percent.
The government’s failed housing policy and a series of corruption allegations raised against his key aides are considered key factors behind the flagging approval that led to his party’s landslide defeat in the mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan, the nation’s two biggest cities with a combined 13 million people.
“I take (the election defeat) as a reprimand from the public,” Moon said through his spokesperson Kang Min-seok on Thursday, the day after the elections. “I’ll continue to carry out my duties with a humbler demeanor and heavier sense of responsibility.”
Amid mixed outlook for his remaining term, Moon is striving not to lose momentum in state affairs for the last crucial year, pledging to focus on people’s “desperate needs.”
Following Monday’s urgent meeting on COVID-19, the president plans to preside over an extended meeting of economy-related ministers to examine the nation’s economic situation and major strategic industries on Thursday -- the third meeting of its kind since he took office in 2017.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org