Former Prime Minister Han Deok-soo has been nominated as the first prime minister of the Yoon Suk-yeok administration. President-elect Yoon introduced Han as “a figure who has earned recognition only through merit, irrespective of political ideology,” and “person who has built up strong experience and reputation in the economy, trade and diplomacy areas.” He went on to explain the reason for selecting Han, saying, “We should lay the foundation to ensure our economy takes another leap forward and prepare for the ‘economy – national security era’ when economy and national security will be united as one.”
Yoon and Han reportedly had no notable personal connection or relationship in the past. Yoon has been searching for a ‘non-politician’ who can comprehensively integrate economy, diplomacy and national security from the very beginning, and judged Han would be the best choice. Han served as trade minister, deputy prime minister for economy, Prime Minister, and Korean Ambassador to the U.S. and chair of the Korea International Trade Agency. Critics say that he is at an advanced age of 73 and lacks the impression of newness due to a long hiatus from officialdom even though he served on key posts both in the liberal and conservative administrations, and thus hardly has the image of a prime minister suitable for the era of 4th industrial revolution.
Han has said in media interviews that “Administering state affairs in a way the presidential office and the President deal with all different policies is impossible. The President should delegate unique agendas to ministers of different ministries to ensure practical distribution of power.” He has thus envisioned a system of ‘accountable Prime Minister and accountable ministers.’
The question is whether and how it will be implemented. Han has been picked without making any contributions to switching administration. The presidential transition committee is already up and running separately. Yoon plans to announce his nominees for ministers one after another this week. Han will likely make recommendations for candidates. Han reportedly reviewed a list of minister candidates jointly with Yoon during their meeting on Saturday, but it is uncertain to what extent he will be involved in selecting nominees.
“If the presidential office manages all personnel appointments, ministries will not engage,” Han said, as he has been presenting a vision in which the president would allow ministers to recommend vice ministers and select appointees to state agencies and state-run organizations and take responsibility for wrongs accordingly. If the personnel management system in which the Prime Minister recommends candidates, and ministers recommend vice ministers is established, the power concentrated in the presidential office will be much better distributed, while the Cabinet will become more autonomous and independent. It is a presidential transition period just ahead of the inauguration of the new administration, but establishing the system of accountable Prime Minister and ministers will depend on President-elect Yoon’s actual commitment.
Yong-Gwan Jung email@example.com