Go to contents

Thorough examination required for PM nominee

Posted January. 28, 2015 07:39,   


Examination for qualification and backgrounds of Prime Minister nominee Lee Wan-koo has begun. If Lee passes confirmation hearing of the National Assembly and becomes prime minister, three prime ministerial positions including deputy prime minister for economic affairs and deputy prime minister for social affairs will be filled with incumbent congressmen who once served as the ruling party chairman and floor leader. Thorough review is required on this issue as to whether it is right for the spirit of the constitution based on separation of legal, administrative, and judicial powers.

President Park Geun-hye may have nominated Lee as prime minister thinking that Lee may easily pass the parliamentary examination process since he had worked as a lawmaker. In many cases, members of the parliament, who should have verified a nominee strictly and thoroughly, actually applied less strict rules to the nominee who was a lawmaker. In the Park’s administration, many nominees to high-level posts, such as Prime Minister designates Kim Yong-jun, Ahn Dae-hee and Moon Chang-geuk, failed to pass the verification process leaving a stain on the president’s authority to appoint personnel. If PM nominee Lee fails again, it would put President Park into more challenging place to manage the state affairs. There would have been similar reasons behind nomination of Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea, also a Saenuri lawmaker, and Economy Minister Choi Kyung-hwan. In the same vein, a ruling party lawmaker is considered as a replacement of former Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Lee Joo-young, who resigned.

In the presidential system where most of power is focused on the president, as in Korea, it is not proper in principle for lawmakers to hold concurrent posts in the Cabinet such as prime minister or each minister. The ruling party members who have led the party to gain power need to collaborate with the government for success of the administration. But at the same time, they are members of the National Assembly, the legislative branch. The National Assembly needs to play a role to hold the executive branch in check, while performing functions for legislation. If those who served as the ruling party chairman and floor leader are appointed in high-level positions leading the executive branch, still being a lawmaker, it is highly doubtful whether the opposition party can raise their voices against the ruling party.

In the past administrations, lawmakers served as prime minister or minister in some cases. It was not rectified under the excuse of customary practice. Ahead of the 18th presidential election in 2012, the ruling and the opposition parties competed against each other to "give up privileges of lawmakers" and vowed not to allow parliamentary members to have concurrent posts. The ruling Saenuri Party proposed a revision bill of the National Assembly Law, under which congressmen are not allowed to hold another position including prime minister, minister and cabinet members, with only exceptions of jobs for public interests. However, the ruling party changed the bill during the revision process in July 2014, to stipulate that "lawmakers cannot hold another concurrent job except for prime minister or cabinet members." Opposition party members did not oppose the revision since they could enjoy the same privilege when the opposition party becomes a ruling party.

The lawmaker who assumes a position in the Cabinet is paid with higher wage between payment for the lawmaker and for the cabinet member. But other perks including secretaries for a lawmaker and an office in the National Assembly are maintained. This wastes multi-million dollar tax a year. Such lawmakers holding positions in the government may use the position to strengthen their political stance, or build career, or may be easily swayed by pressure of a specific interest group. If the lawmaker pays attention to electoral district management or elections, he or she will naturally become neglectful of the responsibility as a cabinet member. Since the General Election is scheduled in May next year, chances are that such lawmakers holding positions in the administration would resign earlier, not finishing their terms.

Wrong practice must be rectified even though it is belated. Park’s administration puts emphasis on "normalization of abnormal issues." If Lee wants to join the cabinet as prime minister and successfully supports President Park in state affairs, the nominee himself must resign from the National Assembly before the confirmation hearing is held.