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Incumbent Environment Minister Lee Quits to Help Lee Hae-chan’s Primary Campaign

Incumbent Environment Minister Lee Quits to Help Lee Hae-chan’s Primary Campaign

Posted September. 01, 2007 08:04,   


South Korea has never seen an incumbent minister quit his job to help a presidential contender who is yet to win the official party nomination.

Back in 1992, then Press Minister Choi Chang-yun left office to help then presidential candidate Kim Young-sam, who became president later. But Choi’s move was to help the official presidential candidate of a party. In addition, Choi had won a Parliamentary seat and served the nation in the 13th National Assembly. In other words, he was a politician to begin with.

A majority of South Koreans voice criticism over Environment Minister Lee Chi-beom’s decision. His action, they say, was not prudent, and was an act neglecting his duties as a cabinet member.

Politics professor Jang Hun at Chung-Ang University points out, “It’s not right. His action may threaten smooth national operations.”

Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Jong-in, who served as welfare minister under the Roh Tae-woo administration, lashed out at Lee, saying, “It’s absolutely weird.”

Furthermore, Lee’s successor has a term less than six months long, which poses an ethical question, too. A senior National Assembly official snapped, “Lee got whatever he wanted. Leaving a six-month term to his successor offends our country.”

A Loyal Follower of Rep. Lee Hae-chan -

When the Roh administration announced Lee Chi-beom’s nomination back in March 2006, heated debates followed over his qualifications. Many suspected that the nomination was based on Lee’s loyalty to Rep. Lee Hae-chan, who was a former prime minister of Korea. Lee Chi-beom chaired a group that contributed significantly to birth of the Roh administration.

A source close to former Prime Minister Lee confessed, “Lee Chi-beom lost a mayoral election. How could he qualify for the office of the environment minister? Without Mr. Lee [Hae-chan], there would not have been such an opportunity for Lee Chi-beom.”

Some experts, however, interpret the situation from a different angle. They believe that it was President Roh who really operated the whole scene. Seeing the sluggish approval rating of Lee Hae-chan in the party primary, they believe, President Roh injected a new force into the camp to help one of his loyal men, Lee Hae-chan. A campaigner for former Prime Minister Lee confirms, “Mr. Lee kept declining the invitation. President Roh insisted, however. It must have taken place much earlier without the recent cabinet reshuffling.”

President Roh’s Choice -

Former Prime Minister Lee is confident that he is the man President Roh supports. Unlike the other contenders, Lee has never criticized Roh.

Countering the assertion, other candidates like Rhyu Shi-min say that there is no such concept as “Roh’s choice.”

Former Minister Han argues, “Let’s say Mr. Roh’s inner-circle man Lee Gwang-jae now works for us. Still, we cannot say we have won President Roh’s support.” Rhyu’s camp also contends a similar notion, saying, “Roh’s support goes to the winning candidate.”

Anti-Roh factions suspect that pro-Roh candidates will eventually unite to support Lee Hae-chan.

mindy@donga.com cij1999@donga.com