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(News Focus) Park's personnel selections raise concerns over national unity
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Yonhap) -- With each new personnel selection, President-elect Park Geun-hye has shown a tendency to pick people with overlapping educational and personal backgrounds, prompting some to question whether she has given any consideration to national unity and balanced appointments.

   On Monday, her picks for presidential chief of staff and three senior presidential secretaries all turned out to be graduates of Seoul's Sungkyunkwan University.

   Along with prime minister nominee Chung Hong-won and justice minister nominee Hwang Kyo-ahn, this brought to six the number of Sungkyunkwan alumni in Park's incoming Cabinet and presidential office.

   The only other school to win as much favor from Park was Seoul National University (SNU), South Korea's most prestigious university that has traditionally produced the largest number of ranking government officials. As of Monday, SNU was ahead of Sungkyunkwan by one appointee with seven out of a total of 24.

   "It seems that President-elect Park Geun-hye's principles of grand national unity and balanced appointments have disappeared," said Jung Sung-ho, a spokesman of the main opposition Democratic United Party. "Filling the presidential staff with graduates of a particular university can create serious problems through a biased running of state affairs or selection of personnel."

   Regional considerations are also an issue.

   A total of nine Cabinet nominees are from Seoul and the adjacent city of Incheon, while eight other appointees come from the southeastern South and North Gyeongsang provinces. Of the remaining seven, three are from the central Chungcheong provinces and four from the southwestern Jeolla provinces.

   The heavy bias toward the capital area and the Gyeongsang provinces appears to run counter to Park's campaign pledge to create an "administration of all regions."

   In a country where regional and school ties are key drivers of a successful career, Park's recent predecessors have often selected their top aides and senior officials from different backgrounds in a symbolic move to demonstrate equality and fairness.

   In Park's case, the so-called "Big 2," or the prime minister and the presidential chief of staff, are set to share the same alma mater, the same major in law and the same home province of South Gyeongsang. They even attended the same middle school.

   Moreover, the justice minister nominee and the appointee for senior presidential secretary for civil affairs are also graduates of Sungkyunkwan's law school.

   The imbalance may have been unintentional as Park's aides have stressed that the president-elect's top considerations in choosing personnel are the candidate's abilities and professional expertise.

   As a graduate of Seoul's Sogang University, she also has no apparent reason to favor Sungkyunkwan.

   However, political experts note that a president's personnel selections have a political role as much as an administrative role in being able to move the public.

   Critics point out that Park, despite her campaign slogan to become South Korea's first female president and her vows to raise the status of women, has also failed to strike a gender balance in her Cabinet selections.

   Of the 17 Cabinet nominees, only two are women, while all of the senior presidential secretaries are men.

   Adding to these trends are a large number of appointees who have passed a state exam and a smaller but sizable number of graduates of Kyunggi High School in Seoul.

   Out of the total appointees, 14 took state exams in public administration, law, foreign service or technology, while five attended the prestigious high school in the capital city.

   The media and political circles have coined a new term to capture this trend. "Sung Si-kyung," which also happens to be the name of a popular ballad singer, takes one syllable each from Sungkyunkwan, "gosi" meaning state exam and Kyunggi High School.

   Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak was also criticized for his first set of personnel appointments by being tagged with the term "Ko So-young," which stood for Korea University, Somang Church and Yeongnam, a region comprising the Gyeongsang provinces. Ko So-young is also the name of an actress.