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Moon consents to delay appointments

Compromise may give ruling party room to push for budget bill
July 12,2017
President Moon Jae-in accepted on Tuesday the ruling party’s appeal to delay appointment of minister nominees rejected by opposition lawmakers in order to buy it time to resolve the legislative deadlock over the supplementary budget bill.

“Rep. Woo Won-shik, floor leader of the Democratic Party, said he totally understands the Blue House’s position to complete the cabinet as soon as possible,” Park Soo-hyun, presidential spokesman, said Tuesday. “He still made a request today to the president to give him a few days to make the last-ditch effort to normalize the National Assembly operation to pass the supplementary budget bill. President Moon decided to accept the party’s appeal.”

Park said the Blue House will also work to persuade the opposition parties to cooperate with urgent bills.

Opposition parties have been boycotting the National Assembly operation to protest Moon’s nominations of Song Young-moo as defense minister and Cho Dae-yop as labor minister. The opposition lawmakers linked their fates with the passage of two bills pushed forward by Moon: the supplementary budget bill, designed to create jobs, and the government restructuring bill.

While Moon has the power to appoint ministers without the opposition parties’ consent, this would likely worsen the legislative deadlock. The ruling party does not have a majority in the National Assembly and cooperation is crucial to pass any bill.

“Jun Byung-hun, presidential senior secretary for political affairs, met with Woo until late last night to explain the need to appoint Song and Cho, but Woo earnestly asked for more time,” said a senior presidential official. “After briefed by Jun about the situation, the president made the decision.”

He said the Blue House did not set a deadline for Woo. “Right now, the most important thing is giving the party enough negotiation power.”

But the source hinted that Moon may not wait beyond this week. “We want to brief the opposition parties about the outcomes of the president’s trips to the United States and the Group of 20 Summit,” he said. “The same goes for the two appointments.”

Another senior presidential aide said he sees no guarantee that the legislature will be normalized even if Moon accepts the opposition demands and withdraws the nominations. “We also don’t think the two nominees have critical flaws,” he said.

Moon also made a more direct appeal to the parties. “It is extremely regrettable that the opposition parties are linking the supplementary budget and government reorganization to appointments and other political issues,” Moon said in his opening remark at the cabinet meeting at the Blue House on Monday. “I hope the opposition will cooperate for the sake of the country.”

He also lamented that the National Assembly’s deadlock held fast while he visited the United States and Germany for the past two weeks.

He said he learned from participating in last week’s Group of 20 Summit that the role of fiscal policy is crucial to maintaining economic recovery. “Our supplementary budget plan accurately fits that intention,” he said. “It will be the force to pull up our economic growth rate above 2 percent.”

He also said the government restructuring plan is imperative to properly countering U.S. demand to change the bilateral free trade agreement.

The ruling party introduced the supplementary budget bill to the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts on Monday, but no deliberation or voting took place, as most opposition lawmakers boycotted the session. Of the 50 members on the committee, the Democratic Party controls only 20. The Justice Party, a minority opposition that supports the plan, has one member on the committee.

After Moon’s decision to hold onto the appointments of the two minister nominees was announced, three opposition parties criticized the move, saying Moon must withdraw both nominations if he wants to normalize the legislature.

“I don’t think the motive was innocent,” said Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. “They are trying to buy time for a few days to find a justification [to push the appointments]. This is not the righteous way.”

Rep. Kim Dong-cheol, floor leader of the People’s Party, also said the party has no intention to cooperate with the Blue House and the ruling party. “The only way to restore cooperative politics is by withdrawing the nominations,” he said.

The Bareun Party’s floor leader, Rep. Joo Ho-young, also said Moon is blinded by his high approval rating. “At the beginning of any presidency, approval is high,” he said. “If the president runs the country highhandedly based on this, the rating soon drops. If this government is truly aiming to eradicate old evils, it must be more careful.”

Moon, who won the presidency in the May 9 election with 41.1 percent, recorded 76.6 percent approval in the latest survey, conducted from July 3 to 7 by the polling company Realmeter.

The three opposition parties, which together control 167 in the 299-member legislature, effectively canceled the voting session, scheduled for Monday afternoon, by making no appearances.

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