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Flexible leadership

Publication Date : 27-02-2013


South Korea President Park Geun-hye’s administration has gotten off to a difficult start with all but one of her 18 Cabinet nominees having yet to take office. The National Assembly approved the prime minister’s nomination Tuesday, a day after she was sworn in as the nation’s first female leader. But 17 other ministerial nominees are set to undergo parliamentary confirmation hearings starting Wednesday. The process, which may prove extremely tough for some nominees criticised for ethical lapses, could take weeks, meaning Park’s inaugural Cabinet would not be formed until late next month.

The weekly Cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled. But in the course of confirmation hearings, the president or her prime minister may have to hold awkward meetings with ministers appointed by Park’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak to deal with some inevitable measures like the proclamation of a government reorganisation scheme.

The standoff between the main parties over the bill on restructuring the government organisation went beyond Park’s inaugural day. It marked the first time in the nation’s constitutional history that a president took office with the government organisational chart up in the air.

The delay and confusion in the work to form the new government could and should have been avoided. It is undesirable and worrisome that the transition period, in effective terms, is prolonged into the crucial opening days of a presidency. The public may well be concerned that nominees for key security and economic posts have yet to undergo the confirmation process especially at a time when it is urgently needed to coordinate policies to cope with North Korea’s nuclear threat and the impact of the depreciating Japanese yen on the country’s economy. The delayed setup of the new administration could also sap the momentum for pushing through Park’s campaign promises during the early stage of her presidency.

Park is mainly responsible for the confirmation hearings being pushed back behind her inauguration as she was forced to take more time to make personnel selections after her first prime minister nominee withdrew himself from the nomination amid allegations of various ethical lapses including suspected property speculation.

As for the wrangling over the government restructuring plan, Park and both the ruling and main opposition parties deserve the blame. It is just like the tail wagging the dog that they are holding the whole reorganization scheme hostage to a dispute over which agency should take charge of policies on Internet, satellite and cable broadcasting industries, which are now handled by a dozen officials at the Korea Communications Commission.

While the ruling Saenuri Party has called for the transfer of authority to the envisioned Ministry of Future Planning and Science from the KCC, the opposition Democratic United Party wants it to remain under the commission, which it claims is more neutral than a government ministry. Behind its objection is apparently the DUP’s displeasure with Park’s announcement of her Cabinet line-up before a bipartisan agreement was reached on changes in the government organisational chart.

It is worrisome that the dispute may signal partisan confrontation over the key policy agenda throughout Park’s five-year presidency. The president and her aides may feel the opposition deserves more of the blame. In the eyes of the public, however, Park can be seen as having not done enough to secure cooperation from the opposition party and even some ruling party lawmakers.

Park needs to show more flexible and communicative leadership to ensure legislative support, which will be essential to accomplish her goals of achieving national prosperity and people’s happiness, as pledged in her inaugural address.


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