The new cabinet to lead the middle stage of President Lee Myung-bak’s administration has been formed. Jung Un-chan, formerly President of Seoul National University, was confirmed by the National Assembly as the second prime minister and has been named six minister positions in the Ministry of Knowledge and Economy, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Gender Equality & Family have been replaced.
Harmony, communication and moderate pragmatism seem to be at the heart of the reshuffling. In this context, nominating a Prime Minister originating from Chungcheong province with a critical stance against the Lee Administration, three politicians invited to Minister positions and a pro-Park Geun-hye candidate are points of attention.
President Lee labored at naming the Prime Minster until the last moment. It is said he evaluated approximately 10 candidates with Shim Dae-pyung at the center. The fundamental principles behind the appointment are said to have been harmony, integration, change and reform. He searched for the best candidate among those from Yeongnam (the southeastern part of Korea) based on these principles.
Jung was once discussed as a candidate for President of the Democratic Party, and has maintained a critical stance against the Lee Administration, thus building the image as that of a progressive. This is why many find the appointment unexpected. However, some believe it is the best choice as it will not only recheck the moderate pragmatism of President Lee but also use Jung’s tendencies toward change and reform.
Jung is one of Korea’s best economists. Empha-sizing the role of state spending and economists’ participation during recessions as well as the autonomy of the Bank of Korea, he is often classified as being from the Keynesian school of thought. The author of essential books to be read in universities such as the ‘Principles of Economics’, ‘Monetary Finance Theories’, and ‘Macroeconomics’, he is also a recognized scholar.
He became popular when he provided constructive criticism against the real estate and education policies of the Roh Mu-hyun Administration while serving as President of the Korea Economic Association. Since then, his name has been given much attention every time there has been a cabinet reshuffle. In 1998, right after the launch of the new government, he was offered the position of President of Bank of Korea but politely declined.
He became President of Seoul National University in 2002 through direct election by professors, and provided various university reform projects such as Locally Balanced Selec-tion, winning much public favor. Frequently invited to join the political arena, he continuously refused, insisting he was going to remain at the university until retirement. While he is mild and friendly, his belief in participation and dedication to the marginalized are strong.
This is why he is often referred to as ‘Mr. Sharp Tongue’. How this man, confident with his own opinions, will harmonize with the Lee Administration is the question many are asking. However, his recent press conference revealed a rather positive stance on the Four Great River Project, an issue he had been negative about before.
Three out of six reshuffled ministries come from the Grand National Party. They include Choi Kyung-hwan for the Minister of Knowledge and Economy, Lim Tae-hee for the Minister of Labor, and Joo Ho-young Minister of Office of Special Affairs. Choi, is a pro-Park Geun-hye representative. This nomination is expected to restore a friendlier relationship with the Grand National Party and reflects the will of the Lee Admi-nistration to create a more harmonious atmosphere.
Minister Choi used to be an economy official before becoming a representative economy expert within the Grand National Party. He served as Chief of Briefing Office in the Park Geun-hye camp during the candidate election for President in 2007.
Minister Lim, originally an orthodox economy official, is a third-term lawmaker with experience in finance and tax. Serving as Policy Head of the Grand National Party for the first one year in the 18th Assembly, he led various deregulation policies promoted by the government, such as the easing of comprehensive real estate taxes, and the separation of banking and commerce. A key aide, he served as Chief Secretary for Lee both as a candidate and later, President-elect.
Minister of Office of Special Affairs, Joo Ho-young, is a second-term lawmaker who used to be a judge. He has stood by President Lee, serving as Chief Secretary during the candidate election, Accompanying Chief during the presidential election, and spokesperson after the election.
Lee Gui-nam, Minister of Justice, has held various important positions in the prosecutor’s office. He served as Head of Central Investigation Division 3 of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Head of Central Investigation Division 3 of the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office and Head of Special Investigation Division of the Prosecutor General’s Office. As he passed the 22nd bar exam, behind Kim Jun-kyu, the Public Prosecutor General (21st bar exam), his appointment is exceptional considering the hierarchy in the legal circle.
Kim Tae-young, Minster of National Defense, is a currently chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His military record is outstanding with his abilities recognized early on when he became the only colonel runner among his Military Academy classmates. Paek Hee-young, Minister of Gender Equality & Family, is a nutrition scientist coming from the Department of Food and Nutrition of Seoul National University.
Some criticize that the reshuffle contains nothing new and that the candidates are no different from the previous ones. Hence a question still remains over how this new cabinet can resolve criticism and successfully steer the mid-term phase of the Lee Administration. Jung said, “reason for and goal of accepting the offer to become Prime Minster is to prepare a stepping stone for Korea to rise high again by turning risks into opportunities.”
However, there are currently still many serious issues abound. These include the macro economy, the economy of common people, private education, job creation, and conflicts among regions and classes. How this new cabinet will help is now the question.