Park’s choice of a liberal prime minister backfires

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Park’s choice of a liberal prime minister backfires


Kim Byong-joon, a professor at Kookmin University, holds a press conference on Wednesday in Jongno District, central Seoul, after President Park Geun-hye nominated him as her new prime minister. Kim was a key aide to the late President Roh Moo-hyun. [KIM HYUN-DONG]

President Park Geun-hye’s attempt to salvage her presidency by appointing a new prime minister from across the political aisle merely fueled opposition parties’ fury Wednesday - because she didn’t bother consulting them about her choice.

Park nominated Kim Byong-joon, a key aide to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, as her new prime minister, the Blue House said Wednesday morning. Park also nominated Yim Jong-yong, chairman of the Financial Services Commission, as her new deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs. She also accepted Kim’s recommendation to name Park Seung-joo, former minister of gender equality, as the new head of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security.

Park and her administration are reeling from revelations that the president’s longtime friend Choi Soon-sil had far more influence than she should have - to the point of being a power behind the throne. Choi allegedly had access to top-secret national security documents, influenced personnel appointments in the administration, strong-armed conglomerates into donating to foundations and apparently was involved in major decisions. She was taken into custody by the prosecution on Monday.

Nominating Kim as prime minister was Park’s latest attempt to fight opposition parties’ demand that she step down, be impeached or cede power to a nonpartisan prime minister and cabinet. By failing to consult the opposition on his nomination or any of the other cabinet picks, Park invited more direct and fierce attacks.

It also made Kim’s confirmation by the National Assembly extremely unlikely. Opposition lawmakers have a majority in the Assembly.

“Park must step down immediately,” Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, former chairman of the People’s Party and a likely presidential contender in the 2017 race, said in a press conference. “She is no longer the president of the Republic of Korea.”

“She should have confessed her crimes of breaching the Constitution and issued a heartfelt apology, and she did none of those - but named a new prime minister,” Ahn said. “She exercised her appointment right without offering a proper apology. This is an insult to an angry people’s righteous demand. This is making a mockery out of the people who desire truth and justice. This is a trick to stir up a controversy in the National Assembly over the confirmation process of the prime minister and save her neck. But no political operation is capable of covering the Park-Choi scandal.”

Moon Jae-in, the presidential frontrunner of the Minjoo Party who was defeated by Park in the 2012 election, said the president directly challenged an angry public with her appointments.

“President Park doesn’t seem to understand what she did wrong,” he said, warning that the people’s patience was running out.

Although the public wants her immediate resignation, Moon said, he proposed a nonpartisan cabinet and a neutral prime minister to take power from Park as a political resolution to the crisis.

“I will be forced to make a serious decision if it comes to the point that finding a political resolution is impossible,” he warned.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said he will join public protests to demand Park’s resignation. “We cannot let a president in a vegetative state oversee an economic crisis, livelihood crisis and inter-Korean crisis,” he said.

Park said he will attend a candlelight vigil to demand Park’s resignation later in the evening. The protest was to begin at 7 p.m. at Cheonggye Plaza in central Seoul.

“For the demonstration to proceed safely and in an orderly way, the city will offer all administrative assistance,” he said, urging the opposition parties, including his Minjoo Party of Korea, to join.

Park reached across the aisle to nominate Kim as prime minister.

A public policy professor of Kookmin University, Kim was an architect of the Roh administration’s major policies on government reform and decentralization.

The 62-year-old native of Goryeong, North Gyeongsang, maintained a close relationship with the late president for decades. In the liberal Roh administration, Kim served in various key posts. He was Roh’s chief policy secretary and the deputy prime minister in charge of education.

“He was considered the best candidate to overcome the various crises of the country and to lead the cabinet for the future of the country,” presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk said.

The three opposition parties agreed Wednesday to boycott confirmation hearings for Park’s new cabinet members. A confirmation hearing and a National Assembly vote are binding to name a prime minister.

According to the law governing the National Assembly, more than half of the seating lawmakers must attend a vote and more than half of the participating lawmakers must support a motion to confirm the nominee for the prime minister.

The Minjoo Party of Korea, the People’s Party and the Justice Party together occupy 165 seats in the 300-member National Assembly.

“It is an extremely shameful trick to appoint someone from a liberal administration with the calculation that the opposition won’t protest,” Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the Minjoo Party, said. “The Minjoo Party is not a fool. This dirty scheme won’t be able to resuscitate this administration.”

The Saenuri Party was also enraged by Park’s move to name a new prime minister because it wasn’t consulted either. When the Blue House announced the nominations at 9:30 a.m., senior Saenuri lawmakers were having a meeting. The news shocked them.

After Saenuri Chairman Lee Jung-hyun admitted that he was not notified in advance, Park adversaries said it was lamentable that she acted without consulting the National Assembly.

“It was another act of pushing the party and the people into despair,” said Rep. Choung Byoung-gug. “Consulting the opposition parties to form a bipartisan, neutral cabinet is the key to the process. This unilateral announcement is yet another demonstration of Park’s continuing lack of ability to communicate.”

Following the announcement on his nomination, Kim addressed the press Wednesday and he said he was offered the job about a week ago.

In a brief press conference, Kim dodged most sensitive questions such as what he thinks about the growing calls for Park’s resignation or impeachment. He also did not comment on the opposition parties’ fury over his nomination.

He was also grilled about whether he had ties to Woo Byung-woo, former presidential civil affairs secretary to Park. Park had resisted mounting pressure to fire Woo, accused of corruption, but let him go Sunday.

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