[Editorial] Yoon’s Cabinet reshuffle is an election gambit, not real reform

Posted on : 2023-12-05 17:25 KST Modified on : 2023-12-05 17:25 KST
The presidential office says the shake-up is aimed at rebuilding the livelihoods of Koreans, but the nominees make it clear that this is not truly the case
Kim Dae-ki, the president’s chief of staff, announces the Cabinet positions that will be replaced at a press conference at the presidential office on Dec. 4. (Yonhap)
Kim Dae-ki, the president’s chief of staff, announces the Cabinet positions that will be replaced at a press conference at the presidential office on Dec. 4. (Yonhap)

On Monday, President Yoon Suk-yeol replaced six ministers, including the minister of economy. By the end of 2023, he plans to replace around 10 heads of 19 ministries to form the second Cabinet of his term.

However, a closer look at the new faces shows that this is no gesture toward overhauling his governance approach, but instead a bait-and-switch nomination process. This reshuffle seems to be an overeager attempt to make sure that the familiar faces from his Cabinet will be able to throw their hats in the ring in the upcoming general election.

Let’s take a look at who is replacing whom. The position of deputy prime minister and minister of economy and finance formerly belonging to Choo Kyung-ho will now be filled by Choi Sang-mok, a former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs. Won Hee-ryong will be replaced as minister of land, infrastructure and transport by Park Sang-woo, the former CEO of Korea Land and Housing Corporation. Park Min-shik, the minister of patriots and veterans affairs, will be replaced by Kang Jeong-ae, a former president of Sookmyung Women’s University. Furthermore, Lee Young, who served as minister of SMEs and startups, will be replaced by Oh Young-ju, the current second vice minister of foreign affairs. All these figures leaving the Cabinet are doing so to run in the upcoming general election.

In addition, Kang Do-hyung, the president of the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, was named minister of oceans and fisheries, while Song Mi-ryung, a senior research fellow at the Korea Rural Economic Institute, was named minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.

The departure of the president’s friends and politicians who formed the backbone of Yoon’s first Cabinet, and the appointment of experts and women to take their places, is worth praising.

However, the selection of Choi, the crux of this reshuffle, is different. Starting off as an economic advisor on the presidential transition committee last year, Choi has been deeply involved in the design and application of economic policies ever since Yoon took office. Along with Choo, who he will replace, Choi bears a great amount of responsibility for the severe livelihood and economic crises Korea faces, including inflation, employment and low growth issues that have arisen of late.

Yet despite this, he is now assuming a weighty role at the top of the economic agency’s power structure all because Yoon wants to place him there. Kim Dae-ki, the president’s chief of staff, has praised Choi as “the greatest of experts in the economic policy field with profound knowledge and insight.” But that begs the question: What use have these supposed insights and skills of Choi’s been to Korea so far?

It’s reached the point where some are calling Lee Kwan-sup, who was recently promoted to chief of staff for policy in the presidential office, and Choi the “two strikers” of economic policy for the second Cabinet. But seeing as both of them have backgrounds as traditional economic bureaucrats, there’s concern as to whether they will be able to cooperate on their duties in an appropriate manner and keep proper mutual checks in place.

The presidential office is billing this reshuffle as focused on rebuilding the livelihoods of Koreans. But these nominees make it clear that this is not truly the case. This reshuffle is merely a general election gambit meant to add a fresh batch of recognizable faces with ministerial backgrounds who are close to Yoon to the ruling party’s candidate roster for April’s elections.

Yet to still keep Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon, who already appears to be out pressing the flesh on some sort of political front, off the list of ministers being replaced is imprudent. It’s only right that Han quit using state funds for his political activities and quit his job as minister.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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