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Cho Kuk may be justice minister

Lee Nak-yon is facing calls to join DP Assembly campaign
June 27,2019
The Blue House is considering tapping the Presidential Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs, Cho Kuk, as the country’s next Justice Minister in an upcoming major cabinet reshuffle, according to sources in the ruling party.

Up to 10 cabinet ministers may be replaced in the reshuffle, which looks likely to take place in the latter half of next month, particularly those who also serve as lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), sources said. Several ministers who have kept their seats since President Moon Jae-in’s first cabinet appointments in 2017 may also be switched out, as could Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, as many in the DP have called on Lee to play a larger role in next year’s National Assembly elections. The most scrutinized rumors, however, those on the possible nomination of Cho Kuk as head of the Justice Ministry, which faces one of the most significant overhauls in its history after the DP and its allied parties fast-tracked key judicial reform bills in April.

As a long-time proponent of judicial reform and architect of the Moon administration’s drive, Cho is a natural candidate - along with the president’s nominee to become the next Prosecutor General, Yoon Seok-youl - to lead a powerful drive to overhaul the country’s investigative agencies. Cho has on many occasions strongly advocated for the establishment of an independent investigative unit to focus on corruption by high-ranking government officials, taking this task away from prosecutors who have in the past abused their indictment powers to exercise undue political influence.

The reform bills fast-tracked by the DP and three minor parties in April aim to do just that, as well as readjust powers between prosecutors and the police. The set of proposals have riled up the country’s prosecutors and pitted many of them against the administration.

Yet a boycott by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) of all legislative activities to protest the bills have so far delayed the proposals from making any progress at the National Assembly. If Cho is nominated, the LKP may return to work in order to fight the government tooth and nail to prevent his confirmation, as they are expected to do with Yoon, who Moon nominated on June 17 to replace Moon Moo-il as the country’s top prosecutor.

The Blue House on Wednesday neither confirmed nor denied rumors that Cho would be tapped as the next Justice Minister, with Spokesperson Ko Min-jung saying nothing would be verified until a final selection has been made.

Equally daunting a task for the presidential office, however, is choosing a replacement for Lee Nak-yon as prime minister, the country’s second-highest office and first in the order of succession to the president. If he stays on until the end of October, Lee is set to become the longest serving Prime Minister since the last constitutional reform in 1987, and the stable leadership he has shown in office - demonstrated most visibly by the fact that he leads current polls as Moon’s likely successor - has had ruling party strategists asking him to run in next year’s legislative races.

The president’s less-than-ideal economic record in his third year in office could prompt Moon to choose an economic veteran to take over Lee’s position to allay concerns of a prolonged recession. Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, a four-term lawmaker who previously served as Finance Minister during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, has been named as a prime minister candidate.

Other cabinet level figures that may be on the cutting board include Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha or Science Minister You Young-min.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]