President Park Geun-hye plans to apologize to the nation for the bungled rescue operation after the ferry disaster off the southwest coast last month. She also plans to announce a drastic overhaul of the country's disaster response system.
Finding a replacement for Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who has already resigned, and reshuffling key ministerial posts remain key tasks for the president. Park has said that those responsible for the bungled rescue will be reprimanded.
But just reshuffling senior officials after every major accident is an outdated practice. On top of that, the ministers of public administration and security and of maritime affairs and fisheries, who are supposed to play key roles in handling the disaster, had been in their posts for only around two months.
Yet ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers are demanding a broad reshuffle of the Cabinet and Cheong Wa Dae secretaries in a bid to restore public confidence in the government. Park accepted the prime minister's resignation even though search and rescue operations were still in full swing, so a broader reshuffle is widely expected. All this has made it necessary to appoint fresh faces to handle the follow-up after the tragedy.
Park does not have a stellar track record in selecting key officials. The spokesman she chose just after her election ended up stepping down after molesting an intern during Park's trip to the U.S., while her first nominee for prime minister quit even before his confirmation hearing in the National Assembly. Mistakes like that must not happen again.
Park tends to turn to her circle of close confidants to choose candidates for key government posts, leading to the impression that personal ties to the president are the most important criterion. Senior Cheong Wa Dae posts were therefore filled with figures with either legal or military backgrounds, which does not lead to a balanced decision-making process. There is criticism that a government of officials who are either too focused on finagling the law or enforcing a rigid system of obeying orders can lose its ability to govern effectively.
The next reshuffle could be an opportunity for Park to regain public confidence and support. She must choose figures who are capable of soothing the pain felt by the public and bringing them together. She should not hesitate to tap even the opposition to search for candidates. If Park fails to make radical changes in the upcoming reshuffle, it would be better to make none at all.