South Korea: Park plays it safe with new cabinet
Share this on

South Korea: Park plays it safe with new cabinet

With just five days to go until Park Geun-Hye and her administration take their seats in South Korea’s new government, we take a look at who’s who in the key posts, and what their appointment may mean policy-wise for Korea’s next five years.

Prime Minister – Jung Hong-Won

The chairman of the Saenuri party’s election committee and one of the orchestrators of Park’s victory has been rewarded with the nomination for PM, albeit as a second choice after Kim Yong-Joon was forced to withdraw. Jung said of his nomination: “Placing an ordinary man like me in such an important position reflects that the president-elect intends to view ordinary people importantly.” This is either overly modest or a deliberate untruth as Jung must be aware of his own plentiful political experience and he is a former prosecutor with 30 years experience. The opposition DUP has already claimed he lacks political experience. An unremarkable conservative.

National Security Adviser – Kim Jang-Soo

Another ‘Team Park’ advisor who now finds himself with a permanent role. He has an impressive military CV that includes the roles of Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense. With this military background it would be easy to presume Kim to be extremely hawkish. However, he recently spoke out against calls from some quarters for South Korea to gain its own nuclear weapons program in light of Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test.

Unification – Ryoo Kihl-Jae

An academic through and through and well qualified for the role. Appropriately, he is a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, and has already been actively advising the Park team on their DPRK policy during the election and transition. The policy he championed during the election was one of slow reengagement and small increases in trade and aid. However, as the recent nuke tests show, it will be hard to predict his North Korean policy direction as it is near impossible to predict North Korea’s future actions. However, his stance is likely to remain less hawkish than the previous administrations.

Chief of Staff – Huh Tae-Yeol

Huh is a Saenuri stalwart lawmaker of three terms for the country’s second city, Busan. He has been described as a party ‘heavyweight’. He is another who follows Park from her campaign staff and is seen as one of her closest aides. Another solid choice politically, but he has been noted as far from adept at social media and promotion. In the election he never really reached out to youth voters and failed the ‘SNS test.’ In his early life he worked under Park’s dictator father.

Many in the Korean press seem to be disappointed that such a slow and laborious naming and selection process only resulted in an unremarkable (used in its ‘not particularly interesting or surprising‘ sense, and not as a comment on their abilities) selection of staff.

The verdict

Overall Park’s line-up can be seen as ‘safe’, or if you’re of a more critical bent, ‘bland’. With a selection of mostly old Saenuri veterans, and a clear preference for lawmakers and former judiciary, Park has taken the stable options. There is of course nothing inherently wrong with that, but with Park herself hardly a force of charisma she perhaps needed some signs of youth, diversity or vitality to remind people as to why they should be excited for the next 5 years. So far Korea does not seem ‘wowed’.

(READ MORE: South Korea: How strong is the strongman’s daughter?)

The DUP hit out that “It seems that President-elect Park Geun-hye’s principles of grand national unity and balanced appointments have disappeared…Filling the presidential staff with graduates of a particular university can create serious problems through a biased running of state affairs or selection of personnel.”

There is still no guarantee that this line-up will remain in its current guise as the opposition DUP vowed that all of Park’s nominees will be ‘harshly grilled’, and having already taken down one Park choice the Left may smell blood in the water. If we are to look for signs of Park’s future plans with her choice of staff, then it looks like we are not set for a term of major reforms.