Moon aims for breakthrough in forming cabinet

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Moon aims for breakthrough in forming cabinet

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President Moon Jae-in named four ruling party lawmakers as ministers Tuesday in an attempt to break through a political impasse preventing his forming of a cabinet. Beyond Moon’s nomination of Lee Nak-yon as prime minister, two previous nominees look unlikely to be approved by the National Assembly.

On Tuesday Moon nominated Rep. Kim Boo-kyum of the Democratic Party as interior minister, Park Soo-hyun, presidential spokesman, said. Rep. Do Jong-hwan was named to head the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Rep. Kim Hyun-mee was selected as minister of land, infrastructure and transport and Rep. Kim Young-choon was named to head the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

Moon, who started his term the day after the May 9 presidential election, had no transition period. During his first days as president, he made a series of appointments to form a cabinet and the presidential secretariat, but many key posts remain vacant.

Although his secretariat in the Blue House does not require lawmakers’ confirmation hearings and approval, cabinet members do, which has become a challenge for the president, whose ruling party does not control a majority in the legislature.

A particular stumbling block has been his presidential pledge to make his cabinet free of five particular forms of corruption: a record of draft-dodging, tax evasion, fake address registration, plagiarism or real estate speculation. The latter is considered shady in Korea. Prime Minister-nominee Lee’s wife was found to have used a fake address in the past, as did two other nominees.

Moon made an appeal to opposition lawmakers and the public to understand that his first nominations were made hastily due to fact that he had no transition period. In response, a sufficient number of lawmakers agreed to approve Prime Minister-nominee Lee.

But the fates of two nominees hang in the balance.

Moon’s decision to name four incumbent lawmakers as ministers Tuesday appeared to be a tactic to avoid further controversies. Elected lawmakers are vetted during the election campaigns. They pass confirmation hearings held by fellow lawmakers relatively easily.

A senior presidential official, however, said the nominees were not chosen merely for the sake of smooth confirmations. “We used the same standards to vet candidates who are politicians,” he said. “It was not our intent to avoid controversies for the sake of easier confirmation hearings. It was to reflect the president’s philosophy.”

The source said the Blue House received various recommendations on the nominations and the ruling party also made suggestions.

The selection of the four lawmakers also showed Moon’s desire for regional and gender balances in his cabinet.

Rep. Kim Boo-kyum, the interior minister-nominee, is from Sangju, North Gyeongsang, and he represents the Suseong A District of Daegu, stronghold of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

Moon has promised to dial down the regional rivalry between Yeongnam and Honam that has defined Korean politics for decades. Yeongnam refers to the region that coincides with the former Gyeongsang provinces and Honam refers to the former Jeolla provinces. Prime Minister-nominee Lee, former governor of South Jeolla, and Presidential Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok are both from Honam.

Rep. Kim Hyun-mee was selected for both regional and gender balance. The Blue House said the lawmaker from South Jeolla will become the first woman to head the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport if she is confirmed. Rep. Do is from North Chungcheong and Rep. Kim Young-choon is from Busan.

A Blue House source said the nominations were originally scheduled to be announced last week, but a crisis over earlier appointments delayed the plan. “Over the weekend, we had to make political efforts,” he said. “And we believe the opposition parties understand our position.”

The Liberty Korea Party said Tuesday that Moon made a sneaky move to name lawmakers as ministers in order to avoid tough confirmation hearings. “The decision is an attempt to take shelter from a storm,” said Kim Sung-won, spokesman of the party.

Including the four lawmakers, Moon has nominated the prime minister and six out of 17 ministers in the cabinet. Earlier this month, Kim Dong-yeon, a veteran civil servant, was named deputy prime minister for the economy and minister of finance. Kang Kyung-wha, a United Nations diplomat, was named the first woman foreign minister.

Kang, however, faces a tough confirmation hearing, as she also used a fake address to get her daughter into a good school. Moon’s choice to head the Fair Trade Commission, Kim Sang-jo, was also accused of having used a fake address. The outspoken critic of Korea’s big business houses, nicknamed “chaebol sniper,” is also expected to face a tough confirmation hearing.

The crisis for Prime Minister-nominee Lee is expected to be resolved as the National Assembly decided to hold a special committee session at 10 a.m. today to approve a confirmation hearing report. Chief negotiators of the ruling Democratic Party and opposition People’s Party and Bareun Party reached the decision Tuesday, but the main opposition Liberty Korea Party boycotted the negotiation.

After the report is approved, the motion to confirm Lee will be sent for a vote Wednesday afternoon. If all lawmakers from the three parties attend and support, Lee will have enough votes to become the prime minister without the Liberty Korea Party’s support.

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

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