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Moon vows to wield his right to appoint ministers

Forcing a nomination against opposition is not unprecedented
June 16,2017
President Moon Jae-in said Thursday he will not give up the nomination of Kang Kyung-hwa as foreign minister, condemning opposition parties for their threats to disrupt legislative operations in protest.

“The Constitution and laws made clear the authorities of the president and the National Assembly on appointing government officials,” Moon said before starting a senior secretariat meeting. “The opposition parties’ protest against Kang is conceivable in our political culture. But I cannot accept their threats to end cooperation and to stage a boycott of the National Assembly and street protests if I confirm her appointment.”

Moon reminded the opposition lawmakers that he, as president, has the right to appoint ministers and other senior officials regardless of their endorsement. Moon said he only needs to respect the National Assembly’s opinions and obtain consent to appoint the prime minister, chief justices of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court and the head of the Board of Audit and Inspection.

The president said it is the role and perhaps duty of the opposition parties to harshly scrutinize the nominees at the confirmation hearings, but the people have the ultimate power to make a decision based on the vetting process. “And it is an opportunity for the president to revisit the nominees’ fitness while taking into account the people’s judgments,” he said.

Promoting Kang as a “confidant and great woman” and a diplomat praised by the United Nations and the international community for her abilities, Moon said it is time for Korea to have a “global” foreign minister. Kang is backed by many former foreign ministers and experts and has won high support from the public, Moon said, adding that he also has an urgent need to appoint a foreign minister as important summits are scheduled in the next weeks, one after another.

“How can the president manage without a foreign minister?” Moon asked. “I will follow the people’s will. The opposition parties must respect the people’s judgment.”

Moon is scheduled to visit Washington on June 28 to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 29 and 30. He is also scheduled to attend the Group of 20 summit in Germany on July 7 and 8 and have bilateral meetings with Chinese, Russian and Japanese leaders on the sidelines of the event.

The decision to push ahead with Kang’s appointment appeared to have its basis in Moon’s extremely high approval rating. Elected with 41.1 percent, Moon started the presidency on May 10. In the latest Gallup Korea poll, conducted on June 7 and 8, his approval rating was 82 percent.

In another survey conducted by Realmeter last week, Moon’s approval rating was 78.9 percent. Asked if Moon must appoint Kang as the foreign minister, 62.1 percent said he should, while 30.4 percent he should withdraw the nomination.

Moon asked the National Assembly on Thursday to send the confirmation hearing report on Kang by Saturday. If no report is submitted by the deadline, the president is expected to appoint her on Sunday.

Kang was nominated on May 21 to become the country’s first female foreign minister. If she is appointed, she will also become the first non-career diplomat to head the ministry. The former senior UN diplomat went through the confirmation hearing on June 7.

While the ruling Democratic Party supported Moon, the opposition parties were enraged by the president’s decision. The Liberty Korea, People’s and Bareun parties are preparing to form a coalition to jointly counter Moon.

“I see it as a de facto declaration of a war against the three opposition parties,” said Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader and acting chairman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. “We will strongly resist Kang’s appointment. Serious troubles are also destined on pending issues at the legislature such as the confirmation of Kim Yi-su as the chief of the Constitutional Court and passage of Moon’s proposal for a supplementary budget and government reorganization bill.”

Rep. Park Joo-sun, acting chairman of the People’s Party, also criticized Moon. “If the public opinion is all that matters, the president can just run the country based on public opinion. Why does the country need to keep the National Assembly?” he said in radio interview.

If Kang is appointed, she will be the second senior official of the Moon administration to take without the legislature’s consensus. Moon appointed Kim Sang-jo as the head of the Fair Trade Commission to lead a campaign to overhaul the country’s conglomerate-friendly system on Tuesday, despite the oppositions’ protest.

It is, however, not unprecedented for a president to push ahead with a minister appointment protested by the opposition parties. Since the confirmation hearing system was introduced in 2000, 34 nominees failed to win the legislature’s support. Among them, 31 were still appointed and Kim was the latest case. President Roh Moo-hyun appointed three nominees who were protested by the legislature, while President Lee Myung-bak appointed 17 and President Park Geun-hye 10.

Meanwhile, two minister nominees passed the confirmation hearings on Tuesday. Hearing reports were approved for Rep. Kim Young-choon of the Democratic Party, nominated last month to head the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, and Rep. Do Jong-hwan, the named to head the culture ministry. Lawmakers also approved a report for Rep. Kim Boo-kyum of the Democratic Party, named as interior minister.

In an attempt to break a political impasse preventing him from forming his cabinet, Moon named four ruling party lawmakers as ministers. In addition to the two Kims, Do was named to become the culture minister and Rep. Kim Hyun-mee was selected as minister of land, infrastructure and transport. Since the confirmation hearing system was introduced in 2000, no incumbent lawmaker failed to be appointed. Confirmation hearings took place for Do, Kim Boo-kyum and Kim Young-choon on Wednesday. Kim Hyun-mee went through a hearing on Thursday. Moon also promoted Kang Joon-suk as the vice minister of oceans and fisheries Thursday. He so far named 21 vice ministers for 17 ministries; he is left with two more appointments to complete the vice ministerial reshuffle.

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