President Park Geun-hye designated ruling Saenuri Party Floor Leader Rep. Lee Wan-koo as new prime minister on Jan. 23, 2015, and announced a partial reshuffle of her aides at Cheong WaDae and some members of the Cabinet.
Responses to the Presidential personnel changes differ depending on the different peoples and political parties.
Some say that nomination of Lee Wan-koo as new prime minister instantly puts him on the list of Presidential hopefuls for the 2017 elections for Cheong WaDae and that he could be a tough customer for Chairman Kim Moo-sung of the Saenuri Party.
Lee is classified a ‘Park’s man’ while Kim is a reform-minded leader of the non-Park Faction in the ruling party. Lee is widely known for his calling of President ParkGakha (‘Your Excellency’) which is quite normal in most countries of the world but in South Korea it is considered an expression of an ‘unconditional loyalty’ and sycophancy to the person the expression used to.
The Korean name, Gakha, bears a completely different meaning from the ‘Excellency’ used to the Presidents, National Assembly speakers, prime ministers, cabinet ministers and ambassadors.
In Korea, Gakhais tantamount, in the degree of respect, to ‘Your Majesty’ or whatever other name that is used for a monarch, a very powerful dictator, that is someone like Kim Jong-Un of North Korea.
On the other hand, however, Prime Minister-designate Lee is considered a ruling party leader best-liked by both the ruling and opposition political camps, or one might want to call him a ‘least-disliked’ ruling party leader among the opposition politicians. This is because even the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) is not that much opposed to President Park’s naming him as prime minister.
Chairman Kim Moo-sung of the Saenuri Party is a reform-minded leader of the ruling conservative party and was elected to the post by the members of the party and also thanks to the favorable public opinion survey results for him, which was not necessarily with the blessings of President Park.
By coincidence, Lee shares his birthplace with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations who is popular as Korea’s next President four times the rating of his runner-up in many opinions surveys on the Presidential hopefulsfor 2017.
Reports indicated that President Park might have had in her inner mind Secretary General Ban as Korea’s next President and there were reports that the pro-Park Faction of the Saenuri Party was inwardly thinking of tapping Ban as their Presidential candidate after Ban’s term of office as UN secretary general ends next year.
However, Ban was the minister of foreign affairs of the progressive government of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun and won the job of the UN secretary general partly because he was not an out-and-out conservative or rightist but a somewhat liberal person winning promotions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs markedly during the liberal government of the late President Kim Dae-jung and the ensuing progressive government of the late President Roh.
There are people who doubt the possibility of Ban’s winning the UN secretary general job if hypothetically the Korean government was led by a right-wing conservative President.
Against this backdrop, Lee Wan-koo appears to be a better choice for President Park than Ban who continues to deny any possibility of his joining the Korean political arena after his term of office is over as UN secretary general.
The people’s approval rating of President Park Geun-hye is as low as 30% and there are speculations that if it falls any further down, that is below the 30% level, it would be difficult for any President to properly run the affairs of the state any more.
This appears to be one of the primary reasons for President Park to hastily carry out the partial reshuffle of personnel at Cheong WaDae and the Cabinet.
In the personnel changes, President Park also designated Woo Byung-woo as new senior Presidential secretary for civil affairs, Cho Shin (a Yonsei University professor), as new senior Presidential secretary for future strategy and Hyun Jung-taek (former president of state-run Korea Development Institute) as senior Presidential secretary for policy coordination. The President tapped four more experts as special advisors. They were Shin Sung-ho (former managing editor of JoongAngIlbo) as new Presidential advisor for public relations, Lee Myung-jae (former prosecutor-general) as new advisor for civil affairs, Kim Sung-woo (a director at Seoul Broadcasting System) as new advisor for social and cultural affairs and Lim Jong-in (a professor at Korea University) as new special security advisor.
However, the President retained Chief Presidential Secretary Kim Ki-choon who had been under heavy pressure from the general public as well as from the media due to his failure to properly handle a series of incidents that included document leaking and the so-called Chung Yoon-hoi Scandal. She also spared from the personnel actions three secretaries who had been widely known as ‘Gang of Three with Doorknobs to the President’ for making it difficult for other Presidneital secretaries and aides to have a direct access to the President, including, according to reports, Chief Presidential Secretary Kim Ki-choon. Reports also indicated that there have been meetings between the ‘Gang of Three with Doorknobs to the President’with Chung Yoon-hoi, an old-time aide to President Park, before her election as President.
Here are typical responses of the major Korean media, conservative and liberal, to the naming of Lee Wan-koo as new prime minister:
ChosunIlbo, independent, conservative, Jan. 24:
President Park Geun-hye carried out a personnel reshuffle at Cheong WaDae and the Cabinet on Jan. 23, 2014. She designated Saenuri Floor Leader Lee Wan-koo and new prime minister and Chief Presidential Secretary Kim Ki-choon is expected to leave after the Cheong WaDae personnel changes are over. The controversial so-called ‘Gang of Three with the Doorknobs to the President’was also reshuffled and given new jobs--although they were retained inside Cheong WaDae.
There have been a series of serious controversy over the influence of the ‘secret line’ of people of President Park on the administering of the state affairs and this, together with the hot issue of the additional tax imposition on the wage earners, has brought down the popularity rating of the President to 30% among the people.
Accepting the offer of the prime minister’s job offered by President Park, Floor Leader Lee said: “I will listen to the opinions of the people as attentively as I would to my own parents and I would also offer even bitter advices to the President if they are needed. I wouldconsider the opposition party as a true partner in the administering of the state affairs and not as a competitor to defeat.”
Many prime ministers have made similar remarks in the past, but none of them have kept their words.
There are so many tasks that the government must implement but they cannot be done without the support or approval of the opposition political camp, which include the reforms of the pension system, employment and education, which are promoted by President Park.
Presidential Chief Secretary Kim Ki-choon has been leading Cheong WaDae in a self-less manner as has been rated by President Park. Kim also has a strong belief in the rule of the law and a strong sense of loyalty to the state. However, Kim should have thought more of the opinion of the people than that of President Park. It might be a good decision if Kim would decide to leave the job if his work performances for the past two years as Presidential chief secretary have been negatively appraised by the people.
The ‘Gang of Three with Doorknobs to the President,’ who have been suspected of having wielded a monopolistic power as the close aides of the President, would be exposed to continued public criticisms if they should continue to neglect in conveying the opinions of the people to the President.
President Park is known to have been very much worried after the negative responses from the people to her after her New Year press conference and to have proposed at the Cabinet meeting of ministers, “Let us start anew!”
President Park should let the new prime minister do his job in close consultation with the opinions of the people. Only this way, the President would be able to recover the approval rating of the people which she once enjoyed.
Donga Ilbo, independent, conservative, Jan. 24, 2015:
Senior Presidential Press Secretary Yoon Du-hyun said on Jan. 23, 2015 that personnel reshuffle is carried out at Cheong WaDae and the Cabinet to enhance the efficiency of state administration and make changes that the people would appreciate.
However, a close look into the ‘changes’ shows that they are something that the people will find hard to appreciate.
Following the case of leaking of the Cheong WaDaedocument related with Chung Yoon-hoi, what the people really wanted was a bold action on Chief Presidential Secretary Kim Ki-choon and the so-called ‘Gang of Three with the Doorknobs to the President’toleave Cheong WaDae.
However, Kim was retained “because there were things that he should finish to complete the personnel changes at Cheong WaDae.” It appears that Kim will continue to stay on the job until an appropriate successor is found.
However, this is not very convincing because there has been enough time to find his replacement. Secretary Ahn Bong-keun was reassigned to the Office of the Senior Press Secretary and General Affairs Secretary Lee Jae-man stays on the same job. They said that they will not be permitted to attend meetings of the Personnel Affairs Committee but they are expected to continue wielding the same measure of influence on personnel actions as they both retain all their responsibilities. In the case of Secretary Chung Ho-sung, he even got an additional responsibility.
All told, President Park literally took no action on the ‘Gang of Three Secretaries’ in spite of the fact that the three secretaries had been involved in inappropriate personnel actions directly and indirectly. As was expressed by former Chairman Kim Jong-in of the Saenuri Party Committee for the Promotion of People’s Happiness, it may be not that she did not do but that she could not do. It may imply that she cannot do without the old system that has been the target of a thorough review.
Appointment of former Attorney General Lee Myung-jae as a special Presidential assistance for civil affairs is also viewed as means to further strengthen the President’s control of the Prosecution authorities because Lee is substantially senior to newly appointed Senior Presidential Secretary Woo Byung-woo for Civil Affairs.
Korea Gallup survey of the public opinion yesterday shows that the people’s approval rating of President Park has fallen by 5% in one week to 30% lowest so far since her inauguration. This may be an indication of the beginning of a crack in the rock-hard support group for President Park, who are known to account for 40% of the people. Support rating for the President falls behind the support rating for the Saenuri Party, which could expedite the advent of a ‘Lame Duck Period’ of the President.
The second personnel changes should be those that could help recover the people’s support of the President. Otherwise, the President should realize that she might miss the ‘Golden Time.’ She used to say, “Now or never!” She should realize that “Now is the time.”
HankookIlbo, centrist-oriented, independent, Jan. 23, 2015:
Newly designated Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo is one of the few politicians who can directly speak with President Park Geun-hye. Lee is known to have been directly speaking with President Park over the phone. Lee’s ‘hot line’ with President Park is a great asset to him because few politicians have any means of direct communication with President Park.
When Chairman Kim Moo-sung of the Saenuri Party disclosed his thinking in Shanghais in China in October 2015 about a Constitutional change in favor of a Cabinet Responsibility System instead of the present strong executive system, reports indicate that President Park had a telephone conversation with Lee to find out the atmosphere surrounding Chairman Kim’s disclosure.
Lee is expected to have a much large extent of freedom in doing his job as prime minister compared with incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won. This is because Lee has been elected as Assemblyman three times, is the floor leader of the ruling party and has various political experiences, including his governorship of the Chungcheongnam-do Province. Lee enjoys a great measure of trust from President Park and has become one of the Presidential hopefuls by becoming the prime minister-designate.
Probably the President had in mind Lee as the Chungcheong Provincial candidate for the Presidential elections. It is not clear if the President has really chosen Lee as a Presidential candidate of the ruling camp, but it is certain that her selection of Lee as prime minister has surely made him one of the Presidential hopefuls overnight.
During the last Presidential elections, she won the race thanks to the strong support from the Gyeongsang Provinces and also due to the high rate of support given her by the Chungcheong Provinces. This is why she appears to be thinking that the Chungcheong Provinces would perform the role of a casting voter during the 2016 National Assembly general elections and the 2017 Presidential elections. During her unsuccessful effort to nominate Moon Chang-geuk as prime minister, she had in mind a Chungcheong Provincial man for the post because there were reports of former Chungcheong Provincial Governor Shim Dae-pyung and Saenuri Party Supreme Council Member Lee In-je who also hailed from Chungcheong Province.
If Lee passes the public hearing at the National Assembly as new prime minister-designate, it is certain that he will become one of the most influential Presidential candidates of the ruling party?along with Chairman Kim Moo-sung of the Saenuri Party, Chairman Kim Moon-soo of the Saenuri Party Reforms Committee, former Chairman Chung Mong-joon of Saenuri and Governor Hong Joon-pyo of Gyeongsangnam-do. He Lee does well, he is expected to erode the influence of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the Chungcheong Provincial candidate for the Presidential elections. Lee said, “I will communicate with the opposition camp and I will say things that may be of bitter taste to the President.” Lee appears to have made the statement thinking that he will not be a rubberstamp-stamping prime minister of the President but one with real power and responsibility. He should have also had in mind the Presidential candidacy for the 2017 elections.
Prime Minister-designate Lee is not a member of the ‘original’ pro-Park Faction of the Saenuri Party but one of the members of the ‘Broad Pro-Park Faction.’ However, he is expected to go a step closer to becoming one of the important members of the ‘original’ pro-Park Faction.
Resume of Prime Minister-designate Lee Wan-koo:
Lee was born on June 2, 1905 in Cheongyang, Chungcheongnam-do, graduated from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, passed a State Examination for an Administrative Officer of the Government in 1974, and started his career as an Administrator Officer at Hongseong County of Chungcheongnam-do province in the 1974.
Details of his resume follows:
June 2014 to date: Chairman of the Steering Committee of the National Assembly for the second half of the 19th term.
June 2014: Member of the Information Committee of the National Assembly, member of the Safety and Government Administration Committee.
May 2014: Saenuri Party floor leader of the National Assembly.
April 2013: Elected member of the National Assembly from Buyeo-Cheongyang County Electoral District on a Saenuri Party ticket.
July 2006 to December 2009: Governor of Chungcheongnam-do Province.
2004 to February 2006: Exchange professor at University of California
October 2001 to October 2002: Chairman of the Guidance Committee of the Alliance for Free Democrats (AFD) formed by Chairman Kim Jong-pil (one of the chief engineers of the May 16, 1960, former prime minister under President Park Chung-hee and nephew of President Park Chung-hee by marriage).
March 2001 to October 2001: Floor leader of the AFD
June 2000: A member of the Republic of Korea delegation to the South-North Intern-Korean Summit Meeting.
May 2000 to May 2004: Elected a member of the 16th-term National Assembly.
October 1998 to April 1999: Spokesman of the AFD.
July to October 1998: Acting secretary general of the AFD.
April 1997: Floor leader of the New Korea Party.
May 1996 to March 1997: Chief Secretary to Chairman Lee Hong-koo of the New Korea Party.
May 1996 to May 2000: Member of the 15th-term National Assembly.
March 1996 to February 2006: Professor at the Graduate School of Government Administration at Kyonggi University.
March 1995 to December 1995: Chairman of the Cheongyang-Hongseong District Chapter of Chungcheongnam-do of the Democratic Liberal Party (DLP).
June 1994 to February 1995: Chief of the Chungcheongnam-do Provincial Police Station.
1993 to September 1993: Chief of the Chungcheongbuk-do Provincial Police Station.
1986 to 1989: Counsellor for Internal Affairs at the Korean Consulate General in Los Angeles, the United States.
1981 to 1982: Chief of the Hongseong County Police Station.
1975 to August 1977: An Administrative Officer at the Economic Planning Board of the Central Government.