S Korean president outlines post-election policy priorities

11:13, June 15, 2010      

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Putting an embarrassing election defeat of his party behind, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak laid out Monday the government's post-election policy priorities in a public speech.

"I take seriously the public sentiment displayed through the elections. I will listen to the voice of change the people want," Lee said in a nationally televised speech to the public, the first of its kind after the local elections on June 2.

In the biggest local elections that filled nearly 4,000 posts with the highest voter turnout in 15 years, widely seen as a mid- term referendum on Lee's conservative administration, dealt the Lee presidency a blow as his ruling Grand National Party (GNP) suffered a crushing setback as it only secured six of the 16 key mayoral and gubernatorial posts while its rival, the liberal main opposition Democratic Party (DP), secured seven.

Key election agenda included controversial development projects initiated by the government and what Lee's critics call warmongering policies toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Lee, while signaling possible shakeup of the Cabinet and his presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, gave little indication that his tough stance on Pyongyang will change anytime soon.

"Cheong Wa Dae and the Cabinet will be overhauled to make them more efficient, and a new lineup will be announced as soon as it is prepared," Lee said in the speech, without further elaborating.

Opposition parties and reform-minded figures in the governing party have long called for personnel shakeup in the administration, considered by critics as prone to ignoring opposing voices. Despite no clarification on the part of the president, news reports said the planned reshuffle of senior presidential secretaries will come next month, and the cabinet shake-up before the parliamentary by-elections on July 28.

"Other things can be subject to partisan disputes, but national security cannot," the president also said. "In dealing with the sinking of the corvette Cheonan, we have to muster all our strength and take stern action against the wrongdoing of the North in collaboration with the international community. In addition, we have to establish watertight security readiness. Otherwise similar incidents could happen anytime in the future," he added.

The president urged public support for his contentious domestic agenda.

"Unfortunately, policy issues have turned into political issues in our society, thereby intensifying public schisms on an increasing number of issues. Among other things, cases in point are the controversies surrounding Sejong City and the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project," the president said, referring to the two key bones of contention in the country's highly polarized politics.

Lee broke his election pledge to honor his predecessor Roh Moo- hyun's plan to move parts of the government to the central region of the country and build a new administrative hub there, an attempt to address deep-rooted regional divide. Lee's government instead plans to turn the newly created city, named Sejoing, into a business center.

"The amendment of the original plan was not driven by a calculation of political interest," said the president, whose about-face met with stern opposition from opposition parties that blames the government for flip-flopping on a major election mandate.

A former CEO of a construction firm whose campaign focus on economy led to a landslide victory, Lee also has a big-ticket project to revamp four rivers running through the country, which skeptics say will create an environmental disaster. Lee has said the project will stimulate the local economy, attract tourists and create more jobs.

"We will be able to reap the benefits from this major national project in just a few years, not in the distant future," he said.

Responses to the presidential speech were typically split.

"It was just a perfunctory speech that left out detailed plans for the reform," a spokesman of the DP, Woo Sang-ho, said in a briefing following the presidential speech.

"The president reassured us by showing his firm will to move toward our future," a GNP spokeswoman Chung Mi-kyung said.

Source: Xinhua


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