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Cablegate: Compromise Reached: Government Downsizing Bill Set

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UNCLAS SEOUL 000347

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KN KS
SUBJECT: COMPROMISE REACHED: GOVERNMENT DOWNSIZING BILL SET
TO PASS

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On February 20 the United Democratic Party
(UDP) and the Grand National Party (GNP) broke a month-long
deadlock and came to a compromise on Lee Myung-bak's
government reform plan. The compromise includes the
survival of the Unification and Gender Equality Ministries.
The reform bill is expected to pass the National Assembly
plenary on February 21 or 22, but this still does not give
the National Assembly enough time to hold hearings and
approve Lee Myung-bak's cabinet nominees in advance of his
inauguration on February 25. Roh's cabinet will instead
remain in office until the new ministers are through the
confirmation process, which could be late next week. Both
sides are, of course, blaming each other for the mess.
True, UDP's 146 seats out of 299 (compared to 130 for the
GNP) allowed them to block the reform bill, and drag out
negotiations. Still, many are faulting Lee Myung-bak for
putting forward an overly aggressive reform proposal before
the inauguration. On balance, the UDP comes out on top by
having stood up to Lee, who now must stagger through the
first days of his term with the Roh cabinet, rather than take
off as anticipated at the helm of a streamlined
Administration. End Summary.

2. (SBU) UDP leader Sohn Hak-kyu changed his position
February 20 and announced in a press conference that his
party would accept the GNP's request to close the Maritime
Affairs Ministry, paving the way for National Assembly
approval of the proposed cabinet restructuring bill.
President-elect Lee's original government reorganization plan
would have downsized the current 18 ministries to 13. In the
face of strong UDP opposition, the GNP agreed to retain the
Ministry of Unification and the Ministry of Gender Equality
and Family but refused to compromise further. Sohn's
announcement comes after Lee had pulled the plug on
negotiations thereby calling the UDP's bluff. The UDP was
left with little choice but to acquiesce or be seen as an
obstacle to the incoming president's reform agenda.

----------------
Experts Weigh In
----------------


3. (SBU) Political consultant Jeong Chan-soo told poloff the
negotiations over the reform bill showed Lee still had much
to learn in dealing with the National Assembly. The reality,
Jeong noted, was that the National Assembly had as much as
the Blue House and Lee must realize this or he will be
stymied time and again in attempts to push through his
projects. Rather than force a showdown over controversial
proposals, as he did with the reform plan, Lee should instead
learn to explain and convince the National Assembly. Some
other experts like Professor Jaung Hoon said in press reports
that the result showed Lee Myung-bak's resolve to change the
government despite the UDP's upper hand in the Assembly but
admitted that it did show that Lee should further develop his
ability to convince detractors. Overall, many pundits agreed
the process was more about jockeying for the April 9 National
Assembly elections than about what form the Cabinet should
take. Both Lee and the UDP did not spend sufficient time
explaining why their plan was the best; the result was other
than those directly affected, there was no large outcry one
way or the other about the cabinet reorganization plan.

--------------------------
Double Cabinet For a While
--------------------------

4. (SBU) Debate over the restructuring legislation delayed
the president-elect's announcement of his cabinet nominees,
making it virtually impossible for the new cabinet to take
office by the inauguration on February 25, even if the
National Assembly expedites the process. The schedule:
Plenary vote on the government restructuring bill on February
21 or 22; bill sent to the administration;
approval/promulgation by the incumbent government; Transition
Team then requests confirmation hearings; and finally,
hearings by the relevant committees. At the earliest, the
hearings would start February 27 since the Confirmation
Hearing Act stipulates that all requests to nominees for
hearing materials should be made five days prior to the
actual hearing. Even with speedy hearings, most incumbent

Cabinet ministers will remain in office for one week to ten
days after the inauguration. While this will be awkward, it
will not be unprecedented. This year would have been the
first year the cabinet could have taken office the same time
as the president due to a 2006 law change allowing hearings
for ministers during the transition.

----------
Roh's Role
----------

5. (SBU) President Roh seems to be doing his part to
facilitate a smooth transition. Following a surprising
February 18 meeting between the incumbent and incoming
presidents, the two sides announced that they would not
accept the resignations of incumbent ministers until the new
ones were appointed in order to prevent a vacuum in state
affairs. (NOTE: Previous administrations have also had to
retain ministers for a few days due to delays in forming a
new cabinet.) Given the UDP's support of the retooled
restructuring plan, Roh, who initially said he might veto the
reorganization plan, will back down from his earlier
opposition and sign the bill when it comes for his signature.


-------
Comment
-------

6. (SBU) Failure to have a cabinet in place by inauguration
is a setback for the Lee Myung-bak presidency, but likely
only in the short term. It is less than ideal to have to
work with Roh's ministers for the first week or two of his
administration, but the encounter will be pro forma and
minimal. The consensus view from the pundits is that Lee
must to learn to effectively explain his policy initiatives
and manage relations with the National Assembly if he wants
to push through any reforms.
VERSHBOW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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