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Public Opinion Defeats ‘Outdated’ Cabinet Reshuffle

Posted August. 30, 2010 11:10,   


A young prime minister-designate in his 40s and two other minister-nominees have surrendered to the core values of a “fair society” that President Lee Myung-bak mentioned in his Liberation Day speech Aug. 15, as well as higher moral standards the country seeks to impose on high-ranking civil servants.

Prime Minister-designate Kim Tae-ho announced Sunday to a news conference at his Seoul office that he is dropping out of consideration for the post, saying, “Without trust, I can hardly carry out the duties of a prime minister.”

He allegedly lied about the time he got to know former Taekwang Industry Chairman Park Yeon-cha, who reportedly gave Kim bribes.

Kim voluntarily withdrew his candidacy 21 days after his nomination.

Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister-designate Shin Jae-min and Knowledge Economy Minister-designate Lee Jae-hoon also dropped out of the confirmation process. Shin was under fire over his admitted fabrication of his home address, while Lee allegedly invested in urban slums slated for redevelopment for profit.

Meeting with presidential chief of staff Yim Tae-hee at an unidentified place in Seoul Saturday night, Kim reportedly mentioned his plan to withdraw his candidacy, saying, “I don’t want to be a burden on President Lee’s campaign to establish an equitable society.”

The president is known to have accepted Kim’s decision by considering his intent and opinions in the political circle and the public.

Since the introduction of parliamentary confirmation hearings in June 2000, Kim is the third prime minister-designate to drop out before confirmation after Chang Sang and Chang Dae-hwan under the Kim Dae-jung administration.

Kim’s withdrawal demonstrates that Korean society now imposes stricter standards for high-ranking officials. Many seek to apply stern criteria to “intangible values” including honesty, fairness and attitude in living when selecting ranking officials.

Despite the controversy over the qualifications of several candidates including Kim Tae-ho, the presidential office had sought to get him confirmed as prime minister due to fears over an early lame duck situation. Yet deteriorating public sentiment against him apparently left the presidential office no choice.

The ruling Grand National Party effectively controls 180 of the 299 seats in parliament, including members of the soon-to-be-merged Coalition of Future Hope. Certain party lawmakers, however, formed a consensus that they cannot blindly take a motion to support the candidates as if nothing happened.

The lone difference of the latest prime minister fiasco from that of the Kim Dae-jung administration is that the ruling party did not file a motion to put the bill on ratification of the prime minister-designate to a vote.

The core values of a “fair society” that President Lee emphasized have generated a synergistic effect with higher moral standards in line with the public’s demands. Paradoxically, they have had a boomerang effect to disqualify Cabinet candidates to a certain extent.

Experts say the latest mishap will not be a one-time event involving several individuals but will serve as a watershed for the significantly upgraded expectations of Korean society to take root. Notably, many analysts say the values of an equitable society will serve as an important principle and standards in establishing societal order as well as managing diverse personnel affairs going forward.

Presidential chief of staff Yim told reporters Sunday, “By using this incident as a turning point, the government will redouble efforts to ensure that the principle of an equitable society will take root in all fields, including politics, economy, society and culture.”

Park Hyo-jong, an ethics education professor at Seoul National University, said, “Korean society has been incomplete in moral standards to a certain extent in the course of its fast-paced growth over the past years.”

“The withdrawal of Prime Minister-designate Kim holds significance not only because it implies the importance of verifying the past, but also because it has also set strict standards for the future. It sends the message that ethical standards must be more thoroughly applied to our society as a whole. As such, this is not an individual matter but a challenge and task that our society must embrace.”