Parties split on prime minister as a vote nears

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Parties split on prime minister as a vote nears

The ruling and opposition parties failed Tuesday to narrow down their differences on President Park Geun-hye’s nomination of her justice minister as prime minister, and the ruling party threatened to use its majority to ram through the appointment.

Deputy floor leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) sat down for talks in the morning, but they ended with no progress.

The statutory deadline to vote on a resolution to confirm the nomination of Hwang Kyo-ahn as prime minister passed on Monday.

During Tuesday’s talks, Saenuri Rep. Cho Hae-jin said the vote must take place Wednesday to confirm Hwang’s nomination so that he can appear at upcoming hearings on state affairs as prime minister. The National Assembly’s hearings to question government ministries will start Thursday.

The NPAD deputy floor leader, Rep. Lee Chun-seok, said Hwang must provide proper explanations to disprove suspicions that he dodged the draft, evaded taxes and was awarded a plum job with a law firm after retiring from the prosecution and using his connections in the judiciary. Hwang was grilled during a three-day confirmation hearing last week, but the NPAD complained that he had failed to come up with sufficient information.

A special committee’s report on the confirmation hearing, therefore, was approved by the Saenuri Party on Friday, but NPAD lawmakers walked out in protest.

The NPAD also demanded the revision of three laws to improve the confirmation hearing process. The Saenuri Party agreed to the need, and the two sides will meet again Wednesday to discuss the issue.

“In past confirmation hearings, the Saenuri Party made similar requests,” said Cho. “We will review the proposals of the opposition party and check them with ours.”

During the talks Tuesday, Cho also urged NPAD lawmakers to attend a vote Wednesday on the nomination.

Lee said Hwang must provide proper explanations on the three main suspicions before the vote takes place. “Even if the Saenuri Party manages to persuade National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa and manages to table the resolution to confirm the nomination, it is our opinion that we should not attend the vote,” Lee said.

Earlier in the morning, Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Yoo Seong-min said he would do his best to persuade the opposition party to participate in the vote, but warned that the vote must take place today even if they boycott.

“If the opposition party refuses to arrange a vote, we will persuade the speaker and ram it through alone,” Yoo said. The Saenuri Party controls 160 seats in the 298-member National Assembly, enough to confirm Hwang’s nomination on its own. But in Korea, ramming through legislation using a party’s majority is considered an unwillingness to negotiate and often provokes violence in the legislature.

Yoo also informed the Saenuri lawmakers that the voting will take place at 2 p.m. today and they should be ready to attend. “If we are alone in the vote, meeting a quorum is critical, so all the lawmakers must adjust their schedules and attend the vote,” Yoo said.

Saenuri officials said the administration is in desperate need of a prime minister to oversee the twin crises of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and a severe drought.

The prime minister position has been vacant since Park accepted the resignation of Lee Wan-koo, who stepped down over allegations in a payoff scandal on April 27. After nearly a month of deliberation, Park nominated Justice Minister Hwang to the post May 21.

Hwang, 58, a former prosecutor with a record for pursuing anti-state crimes, joined the Park administration as justice minister in March 2013 when the president first created her cabinet. He is one of the few ministers to survive the administration’s frequent reshuffles. Park has not yet named a successor to head the Ministry of Justice.

Meanwhile, a war between the Blue House and National Assembly loomed Tuesday as the presidential office hinted that Park may veto a revision to the National Assembly Act. The revision, approved on May 29 and fine-tuned Monday, left the legislature on Monday evening for Park’s signature.

The revision will allow lawmakers to pressure the government to amend certain types of administrative legislation, which Park has vowed to veto. In order to make the revision less compulsory, Chung proposed the revision to allow the National Assembly “to make a request” to the government to change a piece of administrative legislation, rather than “demand” it, and the change was made Monday.

“Unless I was mistaken, only one [hangul] letter was changed,” a presidential official told the reporters on Tuesday. “Then, our position remains unchanged.”

Asked when she will veto the bill, the presidential official said no decision has been made on the timing.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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