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Moon rams through SME, unification ministers

Apr 09,2019
President Moon Jae-in on Monday appointed five new ministers, including two whose nominations were fiercely opposed by the conservative opposition.

Park Young-sun, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), was appointed as the head of the Ministry of SMEs and Startups, and Kim Yeon-chul will lead the Ministry of Unification.

The two nominees failed to win the endorsement of the National Assembly during the confirmation process last month, as opposition parties, especially the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), challenged their integrity and ideological fitness for the job. In a sign of protest, the lawmakers did not send confirmation hearing reports to the president.

Moon also appointed Chin Young as the new interior minister, Park Yang-woo as the culture minister and Moon Seong-hyeok as the minister of oceans and fisheries. The legislature sent confirmation hearing reports on the three nominees earlier this month.

“Since you went through a very tough confirmation hearing process, I hope you will fully demonstrate administrative and policy capabilities in the future,” Moon said at the appointment ceremony.

On March 8, Moon replaced seven ministers, letting go of politicians that were expected to run in next year’s general election while recruiting veteran policymakers to push his key economic and North Korea policies. Confirmation hearings soon revealed skeletons in the closets of some of the nominees, and Moon withdrew his nomination for the science minister on March 31. Another nominee to head the ministry of land, infrastructure and transport voluntarily bowed out on the same day over real estate speculation accusations.

Moon, however, made clear that he would keep the five remaining nominees, despite the LKP’s pressure to drop Park and Kim. He also rejected the opposition parties’ demand that the presidential aides in charge of recommending and vetting the nominees be sacked.

Last week, Moon requested that the legislature approve confirmation hearing reports for Park and Kim by Sunday, indicating that he will complete the reshuffle process before he departs for the United States on Wednesday.

With or without the reports, Moon has the power to finalize the appointments. The non-binding confirmation hearings and lawmakers’ reports only serve as political pressure.

Since he took office in May 2017, Moon appointed 10 minister-level officials without the National Assembly’s confirmation hearing reports.

Disagreeing with opposition parties on minister selection is an ordinary part of Korean politics, but Moon is ramming through top appointments at a rate that is faster than his predecessor. During her four years and nine months as president, Park Geun-hye named a total of 10 minister-level nominees without the lawmakers’ confirmation reports. At the time, the then-opposition DP criticized her for being “dictatorial.”

At the appointment ceremony on Monday, Moon asked the new ministers, particularly Park Young-sun and Kim, to talk about their visions. Park said she will do her best to support small companies and start-ups, which compose 99 percent of Korea’s companies and employ 88 percent of workers. Kim promised to uphold Moon’s vision that peace will deliver new economic momentum and resolve disagreements in Korean society over the Moon administration’s North Korea policy.

“I will communicate actively to reconcile differences and try to create a greater consensus,” he said.

The new ministers will attend the cabinet meeting for the first time today.

The LKP made clear that it will consider the appointments of Park and Kim tantamount to a declaration of war. “There are too many corruption suspicions surrounding Park, and she is not only unfit to serve as a minister but it also difficult for her to keep her lawmaker seat,” said LKP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn Monday morning.

Other LKP officials said Kim is unfit for the job due to his alleged pro-North and anti-U.S. bias. They also said Park should be investigated over corruption allegations involving her family, which were revealed during the confirmation process.

Following the appointment ceremony, the LKP issued a statement in the afternoon condemning Moon.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]