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2nd time the charm in PM nomination?

Posted February. 09, 2013 08:24,   


After President-elect Park Geun-hye nominated Chung Hong-won, head of the Korea Legal Aid Corp., as prime minister, the public`s first response was if the nomination would be OK this time. Koreans have good reason to worry over Chung`s nomination considering that previous appointee Kim Yong-joon was thought to be a good candidate, but had to drop out of the running due to suspicions over real estate speculation and his two sons’ exemption from the draft. The president-elect herself also focused on ethical standard this time while searching for a new prime minister candidate and conducted a thorough pre-screening. Yet whether Chung will pass the rigorous confirmation process by the media and the National Assembly remains uncertain. He must undergo rigorous checks to see if he is ethically eligible to serve as a top government official, including the amassing of his wealth and his son`s draft exemption due to a disc problem.

Asked by reporters what his perception toward a “responsible prime minister” was, Chung said, “I think a responsible prime minister is someone who properly assists (the president) and in the right direction.” Indeed, the concept of a responsible prime minister itself is laughable given the country`s presidential system. In last year`s presidential election, voices urged the need for a responsible prime minister system in which certain powers and responsibilities are delegated to the prime minister with the aim of reducing side effects from the presidential system, in which the president wields considerable power. President-elect Park also pledged to set up a responsible prime minister system and responsible minister system, and to lead her administration in a way by delegating more power and authority to the prime minister.

Considering Chung’s career, questions have arose over if he is qualified to be prime minister, not to mention justice minister. A legal professional for most of his career, he briefly worked outside the legal field while an executive member of the National Election Commission and chairman of the civil servants candidate nomination committee of the ruling Saenuri Party. A prime minister should oversee the entire scope of administration, which is highly sophisticated and complex. He or she should give advice and make critical comments to the president at times. Judging Chung’s qualifications merely based on his career is inadvisable, but whether he is the right choice for prime minister should be closely verified through confirmation hearings.

In nominating Chung, President-elect Park showed her personnel management style of preferring figures with a legal background and those with whom she worked with previously. This can be attributed to her value of the rule of law, principle and trust, but critics complain that her human resources pool is too small to choose from. In assessing a president, personnel management carries the most weight. The president-elect so far has failed to earn high marks in both the manner and results of her staff selection. This is because of the difficulty in confirming a candidate’s morality, but she must display a personnel management style from a broader perspective when selecting the Cabinet.

Even if the president-elect announces the list of nominees to head the government`s 17 ministries after the Lunar New Year’s Day holiday, time is running out for her to inaugurate her administration concurrently with her own Feb. 25 inauguration, considering the schedule of confirmation hearings. When the Lee Myung-bak administration was launched in 2008, the process to appoint Cabinet members ended March 31 due to delays in the announcement of nominees and confirmation hearing dates and the disqualification of a string of nominees. If Korea`s next leader is to minimize a vacuum in administration, she needs to exercise more caution in the nomination and pre-screening of candidates. Opposition parties should also try to verify the nominees’ eligibility, but also fully cooperate to accelerate the confirmation hearing process.