Tensions surface at Lee’s hearing

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Tensions surface at Lee’s hearing

Tensions between the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) increased Wednesday amid the prospect of a bitter partisan clash over whether they should vote as scheduled on Lee Wan-koo’s nomination as prime minister.

While the ruling Saenuri was adamant that the National Assembly put forward a vote, the NPAD hinted that it would boycott the process to block his nomination at all costs.

“We intended on a smooth [nomination] because this is the third time [the government has tapped a prime minister nominee],” opposition leader Moon Jae-in said during a supreme council meeting on Wednesday, adding that this was no longer an option given the raft of allegations that have snowballed against Lee in recent days.

Moon, in particular, expressed his dismay about a taped recording in which Lee boasted that he could easily dismiss unflattering press coverage about himself.

“I could not believe those comments were made by someone nominated for prime minister,” the newly elected opposition chairman said.

Moon’s remarks against Lee left room for speculation that the opposition will try to force him out of the nomination process.

Moon said the party would deliberate its official stance during a party meeting early Thursday.

Negative sentiment within the party toward Lee has surged following allegations concerning ethical lapses, particularly comments recorded during a luncheon with reporters where he bragged about how he could force the press to drop a story that might put him at a disadvantage based on close connections to senior journalists.

Two options being floated by the opposition is to either boycott the vote or cast a unanimous no.

However, the Saenuri could still approve Lee using its 158-seat majority in the 295-member parliament. For a nomination to pass, consent from half of the members in the National Assembly is required. The NPAD could also demand to delay the vote.

Determined to quell growing concerns over Lee, the Saenuri made it clear that it would stick to the schedule to vote on Lee’s appointment on Thursday.

In response to Moon’s remarks, Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung said the matter should not be decided based on one person’s opinion, stressing that the ruling and opposition parties should “stick to a vote as scheduled.”

But while the two parties remained at odds over what to do, the opposition continued to question Lee on Wednesday. Lee was pressed to explain alleged irregularities concerning his earnings and was questioned over his son’s military exemption.

If Lee fails to pass his confirmation hearing, it would be another blow to an already troubled Blue House, whose last two prime minister nominees were forced to bow out amid ethical concerns.

The current administration’s approval ratings dropped below the 30 percent mark in the wake of a year-end tax settlement blunder as well as a series of policy mishaps.

The Park Geun-hye government initially expected that Lee, a seasoned politician, would swiftly pass the nomination process, especially given his stature as the former ruling party floor leader.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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