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08SEOUL297 2008-02-14 08:01:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Seoul
Cable title:  

CABINET REFORM PLAN AT A STANDSTILL

Tags:   PGOV PREL PINR KN KS 
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1. With the Cabinet reform bill set to cut the number of
ministries from 18 to 14 stalled at the National Assembly,
the Transition Team and the GNP are planning to announce the
Cabinet lineup February 15. The list is said to be almost
final, although there may be some additions depending on how
final negotiations with the UNDP unfold. The new Cabinet
will likely feature bureaucrats, academics and businessmen;
there will not be many politicians because they will want to
contest the April 9 National Assembly elections. Hoping to
force Lee to relent and take another ministry off the
chopping block, the UNDP has refused to pass the reform bill.
Lee has countered by threatening to recant on the previous
agreement to save the Ministry of Unification. Indications
all point to the new government following through with the
plan to streamline government. END SUMMARY.



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STATE OF THE "CHICKEN GAME"


--------------------------





2. The Cabinet restructuring plan is currently stalled at the
National Assembly, with the Transition Team and the GNP
efforts to strike a deal with the UNDP failing thus far. In
addition to negotiating to secure the survival of the
Ministry of Unification, the UNDP is attempting to keep the
Ministry of Maritime Affairs & Fisheries and the Ministry of
Gender Equality & Family. President-elect Lee Myung-bak
called UNDP chairman Sohn Hak-kyu February 12 to try to break
the deadlock and said, "Should we be unable to strike a deal,
we will have no option but to return to our original plan (of
scrapping MOU along with other ministries)." President-elect
Lee's subsequent proposal to meet with Sohn on February 14
was rejected by Sohn.



3. In order to press the UNDP, the President-elect will
announce a near-final list of Cabinet appointments on
February 15. The appointment list, albeit partial, will be
submitted for a confirmation hearing motion in the National
Assembly. Mindful of a possible backlash if the UNDP is
perceived as disrupting the launch of Lee's Cabinet, Sohn
said, "I cannot deny feeling politically burdened (to
compromise), with the April elections coming up."



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LIKELY CABINET NOMINEES


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4. Key Transition Team officials have been quoted as citing
the following as the likely picks to fill the Cabinet:
Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, Ambassador to Japan, a
veteran career diplomat, and former Blue House Foreign
Advisor during the Kim Young-sam Administration; National
Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee, former Joint Chiefs of Staff
Chairman and acknowledged as responsible for persuading the
U.S. to postpone the OPCON transfer timing from 2009 to 2012;
Knowledge & Economy Minister Lee Yoon-ho, current Vice Chair
of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI); Justice
Minister Kim Kyung-han, Former Vice Justice Minister;
Education & Science Minister Euh Yoon-dae, former Korea
University president; Culture Minister Yoo In-chon,
actor-turned-professor who played the part of young Lee
Myung-bak in a popular TV drama series in 1995 and actively
involved himself in Lee's campaign last year; Environment
Minister Park Eun-kyung, Korea YWCA Chairwoman who is an NGO
activist; Health, Welfare & Women's Affairs Minister Kim
Sung-yi, professor at Ewha Women's University and former
chair for the Youth Protection Commission; Agriculture,
Fisheries & Foods Minister Chung Un-cheon, chairman of the
Agricultural CEOs' Association; Budget Planning & Finance
Minister Kang Man-soo, former Vice Finance & Economy Minister
and current Economic Subcommittee Chief at the Transition
Team; Government Administration & Safety Minister Won
Se-hoon, former Vice Mayor of Seoul; Homeland & Maritime
Affairs Minister Chung Jong-hwan, former Korea Railway
Administration Chief; Labor Minister Lee Young-hee, former
chairman of the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice who
currently advises the President-elect on labor issues; and
Minister Without Portfolio Nam Joo-hong, professor at Kyunggi
University.



5. If the list becomes final, as most pundits expect it will,
the new Cabinet will feature relatively older and seasoned
experts, with ten out of 14 nominees in their 60s. The
Cabinet is also more regionally balanced in terms of
appointees' hometown. While their career backgrounds vary
across the public and private sectors, academics still
remained a strong force, as was the case with the Blue House
senior secretaries. Five of the 14 candidates are
Ph.D.-holders, three of whom earned degrees at U.S. schools.
Notably absent are career politicians, because they would
have to give up contesting the upcoming National Assembly
election. If they wait and win a seat in April, they will be
able to hold to their seats and serve in the Cabinet. A
no-brainer for politicians because the average term of a
cabinet official is barely one year.
VERSHBOW