Ex-editor named as prime minister

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Ex-editor named as prime minister


President Park Geun-hye yesterday nominated Moon Chang-keuk, former editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo, as prime minister, and Lee Byung-ki, Korea’s current ambassador to Japan, as director of the National Intelligence Service.

The nominations are part of a major reshuffle that is supposed to show the president’s resolve to clean up corrupt practices in the government in the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster on April 16.

Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook described Moon as “an ex-journalist with integrity and his own convictions who will make an effort to straighten out the evil practices in our society.”

Min added that the nominee will take on reforms to Korea’s bureaucracy and society based on his excellent insight.

If his appointment is approved at a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly, Moon would become the first former journalist to take on the nation’s second-most powerful position.

The nomination to replace Prime Minister Chung Hong-won comes more than six weeks after Chung tendered his resignation to take responsibility for the shoddy handling of the disaster that killed nearly 300 passengers, most of them teenage students, after the ferry capsized off the southwestern coast.

Although President Park nominated Ahn Dae-hee as successor to Chung, he abandoned the nomination after the media and opposition politicians accused him of making 1.6 billion won ($1.5 million) in just five months practicing law after retiring from the Supreme Court in July 2012.

“There have been a lot of difficulties [nominating a prime minister],” said presidential spokesman Min. “It took more time than expected because the verification process tended to be overly focused on the personal life of the candidates rather than their philosophy, beliefs and capabilities, and some potential nominees faced opposition from their families.”

“As you all know, I intended to spend the remaining portion of my life fostering journalists after wrapping up my career as a journalist,” Moon told reporters who visited him at the Seoul National University, where he is currently serving as a media professor, immediately after the Blue House announcement. “I am left with a heavy heart rather than being pleased at the offer. The situation we are placed in is difficult and serious. I am worried about whether I am fit for the situation. I am short of capabilities and have no experience with state affairs. But I intend to devote the rest of my life to creating a safe and happy Republic of Korea albeit in my own limited capacity.”

Born in 1948 in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, Moon joined the JoongAng Ilbo in 1975 after graduating from Seoul National University with a degree in political science. He climbed the journalistic ladder, serving as a Washington correspondent, head of the political desk, editorial writer and one of the top executive managers. He became a professor of media at Seoul National University after retiring from the paper in late 2012.

The last column he wrote, published on Christmas day 2012, dealt with then-president-elect Park. The conservative writer defended her against foreign media who always described her as the daughter of a former military ruler.

That Moon was born in Chungcheong is significant given that the Blue House has been searching for someone who is not from Gyeongsang and not a former lawyer or prosecutor.

The Blue House has caught flack for giving too many plum positions to people born in Gyeongsang, hometown of President Park and her father, and to ex lawyers and prosecutors.

A handful of politicians, government officials, academics and a former Supreme Court justice were mentioned as candidates for the post, which the president has promised to give greater power and responsibility.

However, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy defined the nomination of Moon as a cynical move by the government “to win over the minds of the voters in Chungcheong, which it needed after being completely defeated in the June 4 local elections.”

Han Jeong-ae, a spokeswoman for the NPAD, said in a statement that the nomination was solely for the sake of the Park administration, who works not for all the people but only 51 percent of them. Park won the presidency against challenger Moon Jae-in, 51 percent versus 47 percent.

The spokeswoman also noted that Moon is an “extremely conservative figure” who barely has the skills of “communication and harmony” that the Blue House said are needed to drastically reform Korea’s ways following the Sewol ferry.

NIS chief nominee Lee is set to succeed Nam Jae-joon, who stepped down on May 21 to assume responsibility for two scandals at the spy agency: its alleged smear campaign against Moon in the presidential election in 2012 and a fabrication incident involving four agents who were accused of trying to prove a defector was a North Korean spy.

Seoul-born Lee, 67, spent over three decades as a government official after graduating from Seoul National University with a degree in diplomatic science. After serving as presidential protocol secretary in the Roh Tae-woo administration in the early 1990s, he worked at the Agency for National Security Planning, predecessor of the NIS, state spy agency, between 1996 and 1998 under the Kim Young-sam administration, and tentatively finished his career as a government official. Until being picked as an ambassador to Japan earlier last year, he was actively consulted by Park, then a politician of the Grand National Party, predecessor of the ruling Saenuri Party, and emerged as a top aide to her.

Lee has a “deep understanding” of information and security situations, said Min.

Whereas the ruling Saenuri welcomed the nomination, the left-wing Unified Progressive Party said in a statement that Lee represents the “evil practices in government that President Park argued should be eradicating.”

Now that the two most important figures are nominated, the chances are higher for the president to exercise a full-scale reshuffle of her senior secretaries and staff and the cabinet before next Monday.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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