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Nominees for key posts announced in first hours

May 11,2017
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President Moon Jae-in nominated Wednesday Lee Nak-yon, governor of South Jeolla, as his first prime minister, and appointed Im Jong-seok, a former lawmaker and an advocate of engagement with North Korea, as Blue House chief of staff.

Moon held a press conference at the Chunchugwan press center of the Blue House Wednesday afternoon to announce nominations for key posts in his government. Suh Hoon, former third deputy director of the National Intelligence Service, was named to head the country’s main intelligence agency. Ju Young-hoon was appointed head of the Presidential Security Service.

Moon said he envisioned a cabinet that will unite the country and a presidential secretariat that is young, dynamic and respectful. He said nominating Lee as the new prime minister and Im as the presidential chief of staff are intended to serve those goals.

In his presidential campaign, Moon said he would appoint a prime minister with a different regional background from his own, a gesture to promote national unity. “Since I am from Yeongnam, I will appoint a prime minister who is not from Yeongnam,” Moon said earlier.

Ending the regional rivalry between Yeongnam and Honam has been an unfulfilled vow made by many leaders. Yeongnam refers to the region that coincides with the former Gyeongsang provinces, which includes modern-day North and South Gyeongsang as well as Busan, Daegu and Ulsan. Honam refers to the former Jeolla provinces and is now comprised of South and North Jeolla provinces and Gwangju.

Both Lee and Im are from South Jeolla.

Because he was elected in a snap election necessitated by the impeachment and removal of former President Park Geun-hye, Moon’s five-year presidential term has started with no transition period.

Approval by the National Assembly is required to appoint the prime minister, while the president has the power to appoint other posts.

At the press conference, Moon asked the National Assembly to quickly endorse his prime minister nominee and hold a confirmation hearing for the intelligence chief.

“Nominating Lee will be the starting point of balanced appointments by recruiting talented people from Honam,” Lee said. “He was a man of suavity and reason as a lawmaker, and I expect him to serve as a signal flare of cooperative politics and administration and balanced appointments.”

Lee, 64, is a native of Yeonggwang, South Jeolla. After working as a journalist, he started in politics by winning a lawmaker seat in 2000. He served four terms. In 2002, he served as a spokesman of then-President-elect Roh Moo-hyun. During Moon’s first presidential bid in 2012, Lee served as co-chairman of the campaign. In July 2014, Lee was elected South Jeolla governor.

The Blue House said Lee is a seasoned politician with insight, experience and eloquence based on his 21-year career as a journalist, 14 years as a lawmaker and three years as a governor.

Im, 51, is a former two-term lawmaker who was recruited by Moon for his campaign while serving as deputy mayor of Seoul. The Blue House said he is a pragmatic reformist who values decision-making through a democratic process and the best candidate to fight the long-established authoritative culture at the presidential office.

In the 1980s, Im was a star among student activists. As the head of the National Council of Student Representatives in 1989, he arranged Lim Su-kyung’s famous unauthorized visit to Pyongyang. Although he was wanted by the police, Im managed to live on the lam for months. After three years and six months of imprisonment for violating the National Security Law, Im became a civic activist and was recruited by Kim Dae-jung in 2000 to run in a legislative election.

Im is a well-known advocate of the engagement policy toward North Korea. His key legislative accomplishment is a law supporting the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong, and he is expected to help Moon improve frozen ties between the two Koreas.

Moon said he wants to transform the authoritative, rigid Blue House into a young, dynamic office. He said he wants his staffers to debate with him fiercely and passionately, and Im will bring about such a change.

Moon said he expects Im to play an effective role in communicating with not only the ruling Democratic Party but also opposition parties.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party, however, protested Moon’s decision and urged him to retract the appointment. Criticizing Im for having promoted the North’s founding ideology of Juche or self-reliance, the Liberty Korea Party said the people are still uncertain about the new president’s commitments to national security. He should withdraw the appointment to assure the public, it said.

Moon also suggested improved inter-Korean relations by appointing Suh as chief of the National Intelligence Service. Suh worked as a foreign affairs and national security mentor for Moon during the presidential campaign.

Suh served as the third deputy director of the National Intelligence Service in 2006, overseeing North Korea affairs. He was involved in planning and arranging the 2000 and 2007 inter-Korean summits. For Roh’s 2007 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Moon, who was presidential chief of staff, worked directly with Suh.

Suh started his career by joining the Korea Central Intelligence Agency, the predecessor of the National Intelligence Service. He retired from the service in March 2008, but returned as its head.

Praising Suh as an expert in North Korea affairs, Moon said he has high expectations that Suh will use his expertise to reform the National Intelligence Service. The intelligence service has a history of intervening in domestic affairs, including a cyber campaign against Moon in the 2012 presidential election. Moon said he expects Suh to end the agency’s abuses of power.

The new head of the presidential security, Ju, entered the service in 1984. He served in various key posts of the office and moved to Bongha Village to work for Roh and his family after his presidency ended.

Moon said Ju is the best person to help him make the presidency more humble and accessible. Moon pledged to move the presidential office from its current secluded location to Gwanghwamun, and he said Ju will be the best person to implement the plan.

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