Presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min said during a press conference Sunday that the administration will allow Cabinet ministers and presidential officials to run for office in the upcoming general elections, if the party makes the request and the officials themselves agree to do so. This is the first time that the presidential office hinted at a possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle other than the justice minister. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, Minister of Education Yoo Eun-hye, and Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kim Hyun-mee are mentioned for elected office.
Until last month, Cheong Wa Dae confirmed that there was no planned cabinet reshuffle except the position of the justice minister. Its about-face seems to be in line with the country’s political landscapes that have taken sudden turns due to the resignation of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and the opposition parties’ push for integration. In particular, speculation is mounting that the prime minister would step down due to calls and expectations for his role in the general elections. Considering the deadline for resignation to run for office, a cabinet reshuffle is likely to take place in mid- or late December.
Frequent shake-ups are hardly desirable. However, as Noh himself acknowledged that the administration’s job policies produced less-than-expected results, there is a need to reform the existing stance of state affairs across all fields including economy, diplomacy, security, real estate, and job creation. A reshuffle should be considered not a task to fill empty slots but a chance to take a close look at the current situation and make a bold change in the policy stance, if needed.
The first reshuffle in the latter half of Moon’s presidency should be based on thorough verification and aiming for integration and cooperation. They should consider boldly appointing officials based on capability regardless of their background or political parties. In the first half of the president’s term, Moon’s appointment of senior officials triggered controversies, leading to the rejection of the parliament to adopt confirmation hearing reports on all seven minister nominees in March. Of the seven candidates, two ultimately stepped down. This resulted in louder voices calling for replacing Cho Kuk, then- senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, but President Moon paid no attention to such demands and tapped Cho as justice minister, leaving the country in huge confusion for the following two months.
Some speculate that considering his style of appointing minister-level officials, Moon may not make a final decision until the end of the general elections next year, leaving the position of the prime minister and several other ministers vacant. It is difficult to find people suitable for the posts in the first place, and the timing of the reshuffle could be also another burden to the president. In fact, though almost a month has passed since Cho resigned, officials who got an offer for the job have apparently all refused the proposal. Still, leaving minister posts empty due to concerns about its impact on the general elections is not different from giving up on running state affairs. Now that President Moon marked the halfway point of his term, the administration should learn a lesson from the past failures in personnel appointment and seek a reshuffle with the spirit of integration and cooperation in mind.