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National Assembly should scrutinize PM nominee from citizens` viewpoints

National Assembly should scrutinize PM nominee from citizens` viewpoints

Posted May. 22, 2015 07:43,   


President Park Geun-hye on Thursday named Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn as the new prime minister. Her chief press secretary Kim Sung-woo said that Hwang`s selection was made in consideration of the important tasks of uprooting corruption and irregularities and achieving political reform. However, such an explanation is not suitable for the post of prime minister, who oversees the overall government affairs. A prime minister neither can nor should take command of investigative agencies including the prosecution. Political reform is up to the National Assembly, rather than a prime minister

Since the launch of the Park administration, three prime minister nominees have resigned from their nominations during the confirmation processes. The previous prime minister, Lee Wan-koo, also stepped down from his post just two months after being sworn in due to a bribery scandal involving him. If another prime minister or a nominee falls from grace, it would deal a fatal blow to the president`s leadership and public confidence. There have been high public expectations that this time, the president selects someone at least with ethical integrity.

Considering that Hwang is an incumbent justice minister who passed parliamentary confirmation hearings, it is easy to guess that the priority consideration was given to passing the process. However, he is not as clean as a white canvas. During his confirmation hearings as justice minister nominee in February 2013, there were controversies over the fact that he was exempt from the mandatory military service because of a rare skin disease. Working as a lawyer at a law firm for about 17 months after leaving public service, he earned an average of 160 million won (1.5 million U.S. dollars) in fees, sparking suspicion that he resorted to the controversial practices of using the privileges of his former post as a senior prosecutor. There were also suspicions about his alleged gift tax evasion on 300 million won (274,700 dollars) he gave to his son. As the public set their sight far higher for prime ministers than for regular ministers, there is no guarantee that he will pass the confirmation process unscathed. It is also possible that new, unexpected suspicions pop up.

Hwang is one of the few remaining starting Cabinet members of the Park administration. One month from now, he would have become the longest serving justice minister in 30 years, indicating the president`s deep trust in him. During the Constitutional Court`s deliberation of the Park administration`s request for disbanding the leftist United Progressive Party in December last year, he served as the administration`s attorney and played a key role in winning the case. Such a feat on top of his job competence probably matched well with the president`s style of giving key posts to those whom she finds trustworthy after working together. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether he would be able to call a spade in front of the president.

Among the six prime minister nominees selected by the president, four were lawyers, including Hwang. All of the five finalists for the latest nomination were also lawyers. In particular, Hwang is one of SungKyunKwan University graduates who have taken noticeably many key government posts under this administration. President Park could come under criticism for her favoritism to particular professions and schools. As Hwang is an incumbent minister, his nomination gives the impression of a revolving door and feels less fresh. The president`s political philosophy and visions are embodied through her personnel appointments. Her appointment style that has failed to meet the public`s expectations is repeated again this time.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy criticized Hwang`s nomination, saying that the decision "threw out citizens` hope for a unity-oriented prime minister and constitutes the declaration of the reign of public safety." Are we living in a world where such a reign by a prime minister is possible? Both the ruling and opposition parties should scrutinize Hwang`s eligibility from the public`s viewpoints.