Parties decide to put off Lee vote until Monday

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Parties decide to put off Lee vote until Monday


Prime minister nominee Lee Wan-koo gives his final statement minutes before midnight at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. [NEWSIS]

The ruling and opposition parties agreed on Thursday to postpone a plenary session that included a vote on prime minister nominee Lee Wan-koo, seeking to avoid a parliamentary stalemate.

Lee, the former Saenuri Party floor leader, has been hit by a raft of allegations in recent weeks concerning ethical and financial lapses.

But while the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) agreed to delay their plenary session until Monday, room for further conflict between both sides remains, as the opposition may still try to oppose President Park Geun-hye’s pick for prime minister.

NPAD Rep. Seo Young-kyo on Thursday did not rule out the possibility of boycotting the vote at the Monday session.

“Items to be addressed at the Monday plenary session could be subject to change depending on how the ruling and opposition reach an agreement,” she said.

But the ruling party stressed that Monday’s plenary session would hold to the same voting schedule for Lee, who served as its former floor leader before being tapped for the Park government’s second-in-command.

National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa weighed in for the ruling party, saying he would open a voting session even if the NPAD boycotted the session in a move to pressure the main opposition. The agreement by the two parties represents a concession on both sides. The opposition initially called for the plenary session to be postponed to after the Lunar New Year holidays next week, a demand the ruling party flatly rejected.

The ruling party, on the other hand, worries that public sentiment may shift against Lee, as the NPAD works to surface every available public record that could discredit him.

Now with the vote postponed until next week, the ruling party is poised to focus its attention on public opinion. If sentiment toward Lee turns increasingly unfavorable, some with the Saenuri could potentially cast votes against Lee.

For a nomination to be approved, consent from half of the lawmakers in the plenary session is required. To open a plenary session, half of the National Assembly’s 295 sitting lawmakers must attend.

Earlier in the day, the ruling party made clear its intention to push forward a unilateral vote using its parliamentary majority.

Confirmation committee members from the ruling party unanimously approved a report on Lee’s confirmation hearing, a procedural step required before putting it to a vote, which drew strong protests from the NPAD.

It is expected that the Saenuri will push through the vote on Monday given the high stakes involved in Lee’s confirmation.

If Lee fails to pass his nomination, 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 Saenuri is thought to have sought middle ground on the postponement, as railroading Lee’s confirmation without the main opposition would likely have reignited partisan infighting for months to come.

The conflict over his nomination is a stark departure from the earlier expectation that Lee, a seasoned politician, would have a swift confirmation, unlike President Park’s two previous nominees.

Both were forced to bow out amid growing suspicions over their ethical standards.

Questions over how Lee accumulated his wealth, as well as draft-dodging allegations surrounding him and one of his sons, put him on the defensive last week.

His stance on press freedom was also accompanied by intense scrutiny, particularly after a tape recording was made public.

In the tape, Lee brags about his connections to senior journalists and his ability to force them to drop news reports critical of him.

The recording was made during a luncheon with reporters.

Lee was criticized by lawmakers during his confirmation hearing for changing his version of events, claiming he could not accurately recall what he had said because he was sleep deprived.


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