The centerpiece of President Lee Myung-baks Cabinet reshuffle Sunday was the nomination as prime minister of former South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Tae-ho, 48. He is the fifth 40-something figure nominated for the post but the youngest in 39 years since Kim Jong-pil, who was 45 when appointed in 1971. The surprise move came in a political and social environment where age and experience are prized most highly. The recent election of young liberals from the opposition camp, including Song Young-ghil, 47, Ahn Hee-jung, 45, Lee Kwang-jae, 45, and Kim Doo-kwan, 51, apparently affected President Lees decision. The selection of Kim Tae-ho, however, will prove meaningful only if a government-led generational shift brings about positive changes not only in politics but also in society.
Kim Tae-ho was elected to the South Gyeongsang council at age 36 and became the youngest elected county chief in the country at 40. He eventually won the provinces governorship at age 42. His resume also includes stints as a lawmaker`s assistant and researcher for the ruling Grand National Partys think tank Yeouido Institute. Immediately after his election as governor in the July 2004 by-elections, Kim Tae-ho ordered senior staff of the province to find ways for the South Gyeongsang government to go belly up, then prepared a report on the collapse of South Gyeongsang based on their ideas. He insisted on principles and rejecting compliance with illegal activities, including non-recognition of the civil servants union, which was then an illegal body. He also objected to the unions political interference and entry into the progressive Korea Confederation of Trade Union. His ample experience in public administration belies his young age, and he has a fresh way of thinking.
The selection of Kim Tae-ho also apparently implies political intent to raise the number of candidates in the ruling camp for the 2012 presidential election. He will likely add his name to the list of candidates, which includes former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye, Gyeonggi Province Gov. Kim Moon-soo and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon. It will serve the national interest if potential candidates for president stage a fair competition of goodwill to earn public trust by banking on sacrifice and vision. Considering foreign leaders in their 40s like U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, age will pose no obstacle for Kim Tae-ho to perform his duty as prime minister. He must assist the president and help coordinate and unite overall government administration. The prime minister-nominee must show dedication and sacrifice as he faces a tough challenge testing his capacity.
President Lee also appointed confidants to the Cabinet in the latest reshuffle, showing his expressed commitment to stably lead the administration and advance the nation by further consolidating a team of supporters and confidants for the second half of his term. The most important task of the Cabinet is to contribute to the national interest and public good by generating practical achievements.
Health and Welfare Minister-nominee Chin Soo-hee, Education, Science and Technology Minister-nominee Lee Ju-ho, Culture, Sport and Tourism Minister-nominee Shin Jae-min, and Employment and Labor Minister-nominee Bahk Jae-wan must demonstrate a genuine image of a hardworking government after they are inaugurated. Through solid achievements in policies such as the introduction of for-profit hospitals, the normalization of education and reshuffle of universities, advancement of the culture and content industries, and stabilization and advancement of the job market, they must lay the foundation to build an advanced nation, help create jobs, and stabilize the livelihood of the people. The appointment of ruling party lawmaker Lee Jae-oh as special affairs minister and the naming of many politicians to the Cabinet are apparently meant to improve communication with political circles.
Voices in the ruling camp warn that the reshuffle could simply amplify conflict between the pro-Lee Myung-bak and the pro-Park Geun-hye factions in the ruling party. It is premature, however, to judge the nature of the reshuffle like this. It will not be too late for critics to assess the reshuffle only after examining how the new Cabinet performs. Of course, ethical standards and qualifications of the nominees as implementers of state administration must be thoroughly inspected through parliamentary confirmation hearings.