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Who Will Stay And Who Will Go?

Posted October. 31, 2005 03:01,   


On October 29, President Roh held a meeting with important members of his party, the government, and Cheong Wa Dae. At the meeting, he presented his ideas about what he will do with those in the cabinet from the governing party.

The president’s thinking serves as an indicator as to what a new cabinet would look like after the cabinet reshuffling that is expected either at the end of this year or early January next year.

The president made it clear that he wants to keep Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan in his cabinet. By letting the prime minister remain in the cabinet, he effectively hinted that at the moment, his defection from his own party and a bipartisan cabinet are not on his mind, defying rumors being whispered among some in the governing party.

When the discussion turned to Minister of Unification Chung Dong-young, a potential presidential candidate, and Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Geun-tae, the president gave an indirect response by saying, “They themselves know what to do.” This implies that the two will be replaced and surely return to the Uri Party.

Even without the recent electoral failure of the ruling party, the administration needs to prepare itself for the 2006 local elections by changing the composition of the cabinet, either at year’s end or at the start of next year. Minister of Culture and Tourism Chung Dong-chae, who was appointed in July 2004 along with Chung Dong-young and Kim Geun-tae, are expected to run for mayor of Gwangju. So he is another “likely to return to the party” politician.

“I am in a position to accept the decision made by the president,” said associates of the culture minister. Under pressure to run for office are Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Human Resources Development Kim Jin-pyo and Minister of Environment Lee Jae-yong.

Though under pressure to run for governorship of Gyeonggi Province, the deputy prime minister is being cautious. “It is not appropriate to talk about the local elections now,” he said. Minister of Environment Lee, a former head of Nam-gu Office in Daegu, is under pressure to run for mayor of Daegu. Intensifying the pressure is that in the October 26 by-election, Lee Gang-cheol, a former senior presidential aide on civil society, did unexpectedly well, receiving 44 percent of the votes in Daegu. Now, Uri Party supporters in Daegu think that they stand a chance of winning the mayoral election.

In the last parliamentary audit, Minister of Information and Communication Chin Dae-je answered opposition lawmakers by saying, “I won’t run for office in next year’s local elections.” But his own party considers him as a candidate for mayor of Seoul. Minister of Construction and Transportation Choo Byung-jik, too, might run for governor of North Gyeongsang Province.

In contrast, Minister of Justice Chun Jung-bae, who was sworn in June this year, is more likely to stay than to go. He has a lot of important issues to deal with in the first half of next year, from the judicial reform promoted mainly by the Presidential Committee on Judicial Reform, to handling the dispute between the prosecution and police over investigative authority.

Another point of attention is who will be coming from the ruling party into the cabinet once the reshuffling process begins. The word has it that Jeong Se-kyun, the floor leader of the ruling party, may join the cabinet as the new minister of commerce after finishing his one-year term as the floor leader in January next year. Some even say that he might be appointed a deputy prime minister and minister of finance and economy.

Others speculate that the former senior presidential aide who did well in the Daegu election and Lee Sang-su, a former legislator, could become cabinet members as an “encouragement or special treatment.” If one takes into account all these people returning to the cabinet and leaving to run for office, the scope of cabinet reshuffling would have to be more than moderate.

A likely successor to Minister of Unification Chung Dong-young is Lee Jong-seok, a senior member of the National Security Council (NSC). Lee’s succession to the ministerial post will bring about some changes to the hierarchy of the diplomatic and security circle. Minister of Foreign Affairs Ban Ki-moon plans to run for the office of U.N. secretary general in the latter half of next year. Therefore, the prevailing prediction is that Minister Ban will continue to be in the cabinet.

Jung-Hun Kim jnghn@donga.com