Rival parties braced for the confirmation hearing of prime minister-designate Chung Hong-won over the former prosecutor’s qualifications and administrative abilities.
President-elect Park Geun-hye on Friday nominated the lawyer to the top post of her Cabinet that will be launched on Feb. 25. The nomination came 10 days after Park’s first choice, transition team committee chief Kim Yong-joon, withdraw from his nomination upon allegations of ethical lapses.
Park is expected to make follow-up appointments this week.
The main opposition Democratic United Party warned of tough scrutiny of Chung focusing on his past role as the ruling Saenuri Party’s candidate nomination committee chairman during last year’s general elections.
They are also expected to zero in on Chung’s perception of and ability to serve as the prime minister with strengthened authority as pledged by Park, as well as his personal affairs, including his son’s military exemption.
On Friday, Park also appointed former Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo to head the office of national security, and former Army chief of staff Park Heung-ryul to lead the Presidential Security Service.
Chung must go through a parliamentary hearing and approval to assume his post.
Park’s team is expected to submit the confirmation bill to the Assembly around Wednesday. The hearing is supposed to be held within 15 days after the submission and the confirmation report must be finalized within 20 days.
On Monday, the DUP named Reps. Min Byung-doo, Jun Byung-hun, Lee Choon-suak, Hong Ihk-pyo and Choi Min-hee to question Chung.
Min, who will head the DUP’s team, said the party will focus on verifying Chung’s ability to coordinate the administration and break through the crisis, as well as his sense of justice and ethics.
“When you look at Chung’s life, he has had a significantly narrow career by having served as a prosecutor for 30 years. We will be looking at whether he has the capability to coordinate state affairs while looking at the big picture as a prime minister with strengthened responsibilities,” Min said during their first meeting.
During the election campaign, Park said the prime minister would have greater responsibilities as part of her pledge to dilute presidential power, with such reinforced roles as recommending ministerial candidates and presiding over Cabinet meetings.
Upon Chung’s nomination, the DUP criticized the ruling party for “playing up” his role in the general elections nomination, citing various controversies that have surrounded some of the nominees, such as Rep. Hyun Young-hee who was involved in a cash-for-nomination scandal.
The hearing will be conducted with 13 ruling and opposition party members and the candidate must be approved by at least a majority of the attending lawmakers.
The Saenuri Party has named Reps. Won Yoo-chul, Hong Il-pyo, Lee Jin-bok, Lee Jang-woo, Kim Hee-jung, Shin Dong-woo and Yi Wan-young to the committee.
The president-elect has reportedly taken a tougher vetting process for her second choice after her failed first attempt, which led to a delayed appointment process for her first Cabinet.
“Chung has enjoyed respect and confidence from the legal field for his solid view of the country and well integrated personality,” the transition committee’s deputy chief Rep. Chin Young said in announcing his nomination.
News reports have already begun digging up his personal history and assets ― the widely verified items for nominees of high public posts.
Chung and his wife are said to have reported their total assets to worth around 1.9 billion won in 2011 when he was the chairman of the board for Korea Legal Aid Corporation. They include an apartment in Banpo-dong, southern Seoul, land lot in Gimhae, South Gyeongsanag Province, bank deposits and some stakes in Hynix Semiconductors Inc.
While Chung completed his military service in the Army in 1967, his only son, prosecutor Chung Woo-joon, is said to have been exempted due to a herniated lumbar disc in 2001.
As questions emerged over Chung’s son’s military exemption, the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of prepping for the hearing released relevant data on Monday, explaining in detail the diagnosis and treatment of the illness.
Chung expressed caution about the looming hearing at a press conference last week.
“Honestly, I have thought of every possible misdeed that I may have committed since I was born…I do wonder whether there are any misses that I am not even aware of as the (hearing) has somewhat turned into an extreme scrutiny into one’s life,” Chung said.
“I do not have a splendid career, and I think I am an ordinary person. My understanding of the president’s intention in putting an ordinary person like me in an important position is that she will put emphasis on (caring for) ordinary people,” he also said.
To a question on what he thought the role of prime minister would be, Chung said, “I believe it is to accurately and properly assist the president.”
Chung had underscored the ethicality of nominees while leading the Saenuri Party’s parliamentary election nomination.
His committee at the time obligated candidates to submit a 140-item answer sheet that included questions on military service, criminal record, personal property, tax payment and work ethics.
Park, meanwhile, reportedly focused on finalizing the list of 17 minister-nominees during the holiday to be announced this week.
They will include ministers for the newly-forming super-ministry on future, creation and science, as well as those to head foreign affairs, unification and defense ministries amidst escalated tension on the Korean Peninsula.
By Lee Joo-hee (email@example.com