President asks to normalize state affairs

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President asks to normalize state affairs

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President Moon Jae-in, center left, visits the National Assembly and has tea with leaders of the ruling and opposition parties on Monday. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party, did not attend the meeting. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in asked the National Assembly on Monday to support his efforts to normalize state affairs, but his appeal to end the deadlock over his nominees was snubbed by the main opposition party.

Moon went to the legislature in the afternoon and gave a policy speech to ask the ruling and opposition parties to pass his proposal to spend a supplementary budget to create jobs. He was the first president ever to give a policy speech at the legislature to explain a supplementary budget plan.

“If we do nothing about the current unemployment crisis, it can grow into a national disaster,” Moon said. “We must improve employment and stop the widening income gap by using a supplementary budget.”

He also said tax revenue for last year and this year are enough to allow the government to create a supplementary budget without raising taxes or issuing government bonds. “It’s the government’s dereliction of duty if it has the capability but does not use it,” he said. “Ultimately, it will be our politics’ dereliction of duty.”

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In his address, President Moon Jae-in asks the National Assembly on Monday to support his efforts to normalize state affairs. [YONHAP]

While Moon spent most of his 30-minute speech giving a detailed explanation of how he plans to spend the supplementary budget to create jobs, he ended the address with an indirect appeal to lawmakers to support his administrative nominations.

“The government is doing its best to minimize the vacuum in state affairs as it was launched without a transition team in an emergency situation,” Moon said. “I ask for the National Assembly’s cooperation to normalize state affairs as soon as possible. I and the administration will also respect the legislature and have candid talks and consultations.”

The speech was given 33 days after he took office on May 10, the day after his snap presidential election victory. His predecessor, Park Geun-hye, was impeached and removed from office in March, and Moon subsequently began his presidency without the usual two-month transition period.

Over the past month, Moon made a series of nominations to form the government, but progress was slow as opposition parties, particularly the conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP), strongly opposed the nominees.

“The president’s expression of seeking the cooperation of lawmakers to normalize state affairs has another meaning,” a presidential official said. “He was asking opposition parties to pass the supplementary budget bill and confirm his nominees.”

While some top nominees, including Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Kim Dong-yeon, were formally appointed after confirmation hearings, others have faced fierce opposition.

The LKP particularly protests Kang Kyung-wha, a senior UN diplomat named to become the foreign minister; Kim Sang-jo, a scholar and civic activist nicknamed the “Chaebol Sniper” tapped to head the Fair Trade Commission; and Kim Yu-su, a nominee for the Constitutional Court chief justice.

Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader and acting chairman of the LKP, the second largest power in the legislature, urged Moon to withdraw the three nominations. “For the sake of smooth communication with the legislature, Moon must act first to untie the knot he created,” Chung said.

Immediately after Moon’s speech, Chung held an emergency assembly of LKP lawmakers and addressed the nomination issue. “The nominees are unfit to serve the cabinet and as the chief of the Constitutional Court,” he said. “When the problems are resolved, we can expect a smooth operation of the National Assembly.”

When Moon was giving the speech, LKP lawmakers also staged a silent demonstration by placing papers bearing slogans on their computers on the desks, demanding the president’s apology for making contentious nominations.

Before giving the speech on the National Assembly floor, Moon had tea with leaders of the ruling and opposition parties and the National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun. Conspicuously missing, however, was Rep. Chung.

“It is true that the LKP leader did not attend the meeting,” said Park Soo-hyun, presidential spokesman. “But we have faith in the LKP to the end. We anticipate we will find ways to serve the people through cooperative politics in the legislature.”

Top officials of the Blue House also accompanied Moon to the National Assembly to contact opposition lawmakers. Im Jong-seok, presidential chief of staff; Chang Ha-sung, policy chief; and Jun Byung-hun, senior secretary for political affairs, accompanied Moon as well as other public relations aides.

Earlier in the morning, Speaker Chung and floor leaders of major parties had their routine legislative schedule meeting to discuss a voting plan for the supplementary budget bill. The LKP was a no-show. Chung and floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party and opposition People’s Party and Bareun Party agreed to review and vote on the bill.

At the meeting, Democratic Party floor leader Woo Won-shik strongly pressured the opposition counterparts to support the foreign minister-nominee. “Kang is a must-have person for the Korea-U.S. summit, an extremely important event,” Woo said. “We must resolve the public concerns as soon as possible.”

Moon is scheduled to visit Washington later this month to have a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. With only weeks left before the meeting, his national security team still has vacancies. Kang was nominated earlier this month, but not confirmed. Moon just nominated Song Young-moo, former Navy admiral, as his defense minister on Sunday and he has yet to go through a confirmation hearing.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly’s National Policy Committee failed to hold a scheduled meeting to discuss the confirmation of Kim Sang-jo as the Fair Trade Commission, as the LKP lawmakers boycotted the session.

The ruling and opposition lawmakers were also planned to hold a meeting to discuss the confirmation of Kim Yu-su as the chief justice of the Constitutional Court, but the session was canceled.

The legislature’s consensus for the ministers is not mandatory, but Moon will not likely use his presidential power to make appointments ahead of the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s voting on the supplementary budget bill and further confirmation hearings.

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

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