Moon implores reps for break on Lee

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Moon implores reps for break on Lee


President Moon Jae-in presides over a senior secretariat meeting in the Blue House on Monday. Before starting the meeting, he addressed the crisis over his prime minister nominee Lee Nak-yon. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in Monday managed to secure the votes needed to appoint Lee Nak-yon as prime minister after an opposition party decided to overlook Lee’s ethically challenged past.

“The latest controversy was prompted because I had no time for preparation and I seek understanding of the opposition lawmakers and the people,” Moon said Monday as he addressed the crisis over Lee’s nomination before starting a senior secretariat meeting.

Moon started his term immediately without a transition period as his victory in a snap election was finalized. Hours after his presidential inauguration on May 10, Moon announced that he would name Lee, governor of South Jeolla, as prime minister. Lee went through a confirmation hearing last week and faced an unexpected hurdle after it was revealed that Lee’s wife used a fake residential address in 1989 to be assigned to a better position as a teacher. Lee issued an apology, which did little to assuage the opposition parties.

The Korean public is particularly sensitive about elite families’ use of fake residential addresses for real estate speculation or to get their kids into better schools. The issue has torpedoed nominees for top government positions in the past. Before becoming president, Moon specifically pledged he wouldn’t appoint any candidate with a record of draft-dodging, tax evasion, fake address registration, plagiarism or real estate speculation, which Koreans disapprove of among their public servants. A National Assembly approval is mandatory to appoint a prime minister, and the vote, initially scheduled for Friday, was canceled after the scandal broke.

To placate lawmakers, Moon addressed the issue on Monday. He said he named the prime minister on the first day of his presidency to form a cabinet as quickly as possible and to end the administrative vacuum created by the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. “But the confirmation was delayed and politicized, and my efforts were in vain,” he said.

Moon said he made the pledge that his administration would be free from the five specific kinds of corruptions because they were serious issues during the confirmation hearings of his predecessors Lee Myung-bak and Park in particular.

“I think my principle in appointing senior officials is extremely important in making a fair and righteous society and transparent bureaucratic community,” Moon said. “And I don’t think my pledge was too idealistic.”

He, however, admitted that a more specific and realistic standard is needed to actually implement the principle and ordered his aides to create one as soon as possible. “If I had a transition period to give shape to my pledges, I could have created a more specific appointment standard in advance,” Moon said. “But I had to start making appointments without the standard, and the latest controversy started.”

Moon stressed that the standard doesn’t mean that he will not follow through with his pledge or withdraw it. “It is a necessary preparation to realize the promise,” he said. “The current controversy was prompted because we didn’t have the time to have such a preparation, and I ask for the understanding of opposition lawmakers and the public.”

Shortly after, the People’s Party, a centrist opposition party and the third largest political power in the assembly, said it would approve Lee’s appointment. “We see various problems in Lee, including the fake address issue,” Rep. Kim Dong-cheol, floor leader of the People’s Party, said. “But we decided to cooperate with the appointment to settle the matter from a broader point of view.”

As of now, the ruling Democratic Party has 120 lawmakers in the 299-member legislature. The conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party has 107 lawmakers and the People’s Party has 40. The Justice Party, which has six lawmakers, and the Bareun Party, which has 20 lawmakers, also said they will support Lee’s nomination.

Despite Moon’s appeal, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party decided to reject the nominee. Rep. Chung Woo-taik, its floor leader and acting chairman, said the decision was made at a general lawmakers’ assembly of the party. Moon has enough votes to appoint Lee prime minister and the voting is expected to take place on Wednesday. It’s a bad start, however, to the new president’s plan for “cooperative politics.”

Earlier Monday morning, Jun Byung-hun, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, visited the National Assembly and met with Speaker Chung Sye-kyun and floor leaders of the four major parties to explain a new standard that the Blue House will use from now on. The Blue House will rule out any cabinet minister nominees with records of using fake addresses after July 2005, Jun was quoted as saying by Rep. Kang Hoo-sik, spokesman of the Democratic Party.

The Blue House said the year 2005 was selected because that was when the National Assembly introduced the confirmation hearing system. In fact, the law requiring a confirmation hearing for a prime minister was established in 2000. The law was revised in 2003 and 2005 to expand the posts that must undergo the confirmation process to include cabinet members.

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