In reshuffle, pressure intensifies

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In reshuffle, pressure intensifies

President Park Geun-hye came under more pressure yesterday to reconsider her cabinet nominees as the legislature stalled in confirming the new heads of key ministries over their questionable ethical standards.

The National Assembly’s Education and Culture Committee canceled a scheduled meeting yesterday after opposition lawmakers refused to endorse confirmation hearing reports for Park’s nominees to head the education and culture ministries.

Kim Myung-soo, Park’s pick to fill the dual role of education minister and deputy prime minister for education, culture and society, and Chung Sung-keun, the culture minister nominee, went through their confirmation hearings earlier this week, while the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy continued to adamantly protest both nominees.

Kim is accused of plagiarizing academic papers and illegal stock trading, while Chung came under fire during his hearing for a history of drunken driving and perjury.

During Thursday’s confirmation hearing, Chung denied allegations that he engaged in real estate speculation and that a 1988 transaction was in violation of the law. After an opposition lawmaker presented more evidence, Chung eventually admitted that he had lied and apologized. The hearing was called off afterward.

Following the development, the opposition party made clear that it has no intention to resume the hearing to question him further. “Perjury can be the biggest reason to disqualify a nominee,” said Park Young-sun, the NPAD floor leader. “The people won’t forgive Chung for lying at his confirmation hearing.”

The Government Administration and Home Affairs Committee also called off its meeting as opposition lawmakers boycotted the session to discuss the confirmation hearing report on another ministerial nominee.

The NPAD criticized Chong Jong-sup, the home affairs minister nominee, for engaging in real estate speculation, self-plagiarism, tax evasion and receiving special treatment to keep his teaching job while serving his military duty. The main opposition further stated that Chong was a “department store of various corruptions.”

Last month, President Park undertook the first major reshuffling of her cabinet following harsh public backlash to the government’s poor handling of the deadly Sewol ferry disaster. While some of her nominees passed the confirmation hearings, the fates of the other troubled candidates remained uncertain as concerns over their suitability grew.

During a rare meeting on Thursday between Park and four leaders of the ruling and opposition parties, NPAD lawmakers asked the president to reconsider her appointments. Park only responded that she would keep their advice in mind.

Confirmation hearings for the ministers are nonbinding, but they have political weight. The National Assembly has until Sunday to endorse the hearing report for Chong and until Monday for Kim and Chung.

Sources from the ruling Saenuri Party said support for Kim has dwindled, as he has failed to clear up allegations concerning plagiarism and insider trading. “There is increasing concern among lawmakers that Kim cannot perform his job as deputy prime minister,” a Saenuri lawmaker said yesterday. Other party sources said appointing Kim would be a bad strategy ahead of the July 30 by-elections.

The ruling party was also withdrawing its backing for Chung after he lied during the confirmation hearing.

“We are carefully watching the course of public opinion, but it is a consensus that lying cannot be accepted,” a Saenuri official said.

BY KWON HO, SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]





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