Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Portfolio Allocation as the President's Calculations: Loyalty, Copartisanship, and Political Context in South Korea

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Portfolio Allocation as the President's Calculations: Loyalty, Copartisanship, and Political Context in South Korea

Article excerpt

Abstract

How do the president's calculations in achieving policy goals shape the allocation of cabinet portfolios? Despite the growing literature on presidential cabinet appointments, this question has barely been addressed. I argue that cabinet appointments are strongly affected not only by presidential incentives to effectively deliver their key policy commitments but also by their interest in having their administration maintain strong political leverage. Through an analysis of portfolio allocations in South Korea after democratization, I demonstrate that the posts wherein ministers can influence the government's overall reputation typically go to nonpartisan professionals ideologically aligned with presidents, while the posts wherein ministers can exert legislators' influence generally go to senior copartisans. My findings highlight a critical difference in presidential portfolio allocation from parliamentary democracies, where key posts tend to be reserved for senior parliamentarians from the ruling party.

Keywords

president, presidential system, minister, cabinet appointment, portfolio allocation, South Korea, East Asia

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Existing research on cabinet formation in presidential systems has offered key insights on the chief executive's appointment strategy. According to the literature, presidents with limited policy-making power tend to form a cabinet with more partisan ministers in order to reinforce support for their policy program (Amorim Neto 2006). When their party does not control a legislative majority, presidents are more likely to concede cabinet posts to opposition parties, thereby shoring up support for their policy agenda (Cheibub 2007; Cheibub, Przeworski, and Saiegh 2004). When institutional circumstances allow for effective control of their party, presidents are more likely to appoint copartisans versus nonpartisans to the cabinet in order to limit agency loss (Martinez-Gallardo and Schleiter 2015).

While these studies contribute to an understanding of the role of cabinet appointments in achieving policy goals, they fail to recognize that cabinet portfolios are not all equivalent; instead, specific posts are better suited to advance particular goals. (1) On the one hand, cabinet posts in key policy areas, such as economic management, directly determine the government's overall reputation; on the other hand, positions in the policy areas represented by organized interest groups help to enhance the administration's governability. Existing research suggests that a variety of cabinet posts have been classified by the degree of their prestige or their gender type (Escobar-Lemmon and Taylor-Robinson 2005; Krook and O'Brien 2012), but little is known about how these posts can be categorized on the basis of a president's policy purposes.

In this article, I develop a theory that explains portfolio allocation as an instrument of presidents' efforts to fulfill their dual policy objectives, which often become a trade-off under the institutional separation of powers. As national leaders, presidents would like to appoint as many loyal and competent agents as possible to implement the policies promised in their electoral platforms; but as heads of government and party leaders, (2) they also need to use cabinet appointments to secure support from the legislature and the ruling party. Successfully balancing these incentives allows presidents not only to gain loyalty and expertise in key issue areas but also to benefit from legislators' experience and influence necessary to formulate and implement their program.

In light of this, how do presidents distribute cabinet portfolios to ministers for their policy goals? I argue that the posts wherein ministers can influence the government's overall reputation through the delivery of policy commitments in key issue areas are most likely to go to nonpartisan professionals who are ideologically aligned with presidents, while the posts wherein ministers can exert legislators' influence for the sake of the administration's governability in policy formulation and execution often go to senior legislators from the president's own party. …

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