Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae (right) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha head to the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Yonhap
Talks of a Cabinet reshuffle are rising, following a series of controversies surrounding high-profile ministers of the Moon Jae-in administration.
Controversies about Cabinet members and nominees have dogged President Moon Jae-in throughout his term, but this time talks of a reshuffle are rising from within the ranks of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.
Ministers linked to a possible reshuffle include Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha and Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo.
For the ruling party, which has defended Moon’s ministers through relatively minor controversies to those that led to criminal investigations and court cases, the issue concerning Kang’s husband appears to have tipped the scales.
Kang, Moon’s longest-serving minister who took office in June 2017, became the center of controversy when it was revealed that her husband traveled to the US despite government recommendations to refrain from travel in light of the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kang’s husband -- Lee Yill-byung, a professor emeritus of computer science at Yonsei University -- left for the US on Saturday, apparently to purchase a yacht, sparking public condemnation.
Speaking via radio on Monday, the ruling party’s Rep. Kim Nam-kuk openly criticized Kang’s husband, breaking away from the party’s tendency to downplay controversies surrounding Cabinet members.
Saying that the entire country is refraining from usual activities due to the pandemic, Kim said that Lee’s trip was “very inappropriate.”
As for the health minister, he has landed in hot water due to the Health Ministry’s online campaign featuring Park. Although the image carries a message that the ministry will remain vigilant against the pandemic, it has drawn criticism that it appears to highlight Park due to the large image of the minister prominent on the poster.
The fact that the controversy over Kang and Park came just as that surrounding the justice minister appeared to be dying down is likely to have added to the burden on the ruling party as it gears up for a parliamentary audit and upcoming budget review.
Local political parties have displayed a tendency to bundle current issues unrelated to the budget with the budget review, with the parties refusing to process the budget unless certain issues are resolved.
A number of ruling party officials speaking on condition of anonymity have been quoted by local media as saying that a reshuffle is necessary, and that some changes in the Cabinet will be made within the year.
Cheong Wa Dae officials, however, declined comment on related reports, saying only that the matter of Cabinet selection is entirely up to the president.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)