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Park speeds up personnel reshuffle

All Headlines 14:51 October 31, 2016

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 31 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye is expected to pick a new prime minister and complete a reshuffle of her secretariat as early as this week, her aides said Monday, in an effort to allay escalating public anger over an influence-peddling scandal involving her close confidante.

Amid fears over a possible administrative vacuum, Park is likely to pick her new chief of staff and two other senior aides this week, a presidential official said.

On Sunday, Park already appointed two senior secretaries for civil affairs and public relations. The two are among the five senior posts on Park's reshuffle list, which also includes the chief of staff and senior secretaries for policy coordination and political affairs.

The shakeup comes in response to the growing calls from both ruling and opposition parties for a sweeping personnel overhaul.

The burgeoning scandal involving Choi Soon-sil has dealt a serious blow to the president, sending her approval ratings into the dismal 10-percent range and triggered calls across the nation for her resignation or impeachment.

Choi is being billed as the "eminence grise," who has allegedly used her decades-long friendship with Park to meddle in state affairs -- particularly presidential matters such as Park's wardrobe, public speeches and even the selection of presidential advisers. Choi has never had any government post or security clearance.

Now, attention is being focused on who will become prime minister.

Speculation abounds that Park may appoint one that is not politically skewed and can be accepted by either side of the political aisle so that he or she can set up a bipartisan "neutral" Cabinet.

"The notion of a neutral Cabinet is good, but it should consist of people who can genuinely work to serve the nation, not those who are pursuing partisan interests," a presidential official, declining to be named, said.

The idea of forming a bipartisan Cabinet was first suggested by the opposition camp and later supported by the ruling Saenuri Party. But the concept faces a hurdle as the main opposition Democratic Party now demands that Park first verify the truth behind the scandal, and give up her ruling party membership.

Despite the obstacles, Park is expected to designate a prime minister to whom she can relinquish some of her executive functions, which analysts say would include those related mostly to domestic affairs such as economic policy.

With her leadership seriously dented by the scandal, Park is likely to focus on foreign affairs and security issues and form a new Cabinet that reflects the opinions of the premier, analysts predicted.

Among those mentioned as possible candidates for prime minister is Kim Byong-joon, a public administration professor at Kookmin University, who the ruling party leadership has recommended. Kim served as a presidential policy advisor and education minister under the former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun who led the country from 2003-2008.

Along with the professor, Kim Chong-in, former leader of the Democratic Party, and Sohn Hak-kyu, also former leader of the main opposition party, have been cited as potential candidates.

Also on the candidate list are former Prime Ministers Lee Hong-koo, Goh Kun and Kim Hwang-sik; Lee Kang-kook, a former Constitutional Court chief; and Kang Bong-kyun, a former finance minister.

As for the vacant post for Park's new chief of staff, a series of possible candidates have been mentioned. They include former Seoul National University President Lee Jang-moo, former Yonsei University President Jeong Kap-young and former Ambassador to China Kwon Young-se.

This graphic, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows President Park Geun-hye (L) and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil at the center of an influence-peddling scandal. (Yonhap)

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