D-4 days to inauguration: Only a fraction of Yoon’s Cabinet appointees confirmed by parliament

Posted on : 2022-05-06 17:57 KST Modified on : 2022-05-06 17:57 KST
Yoon Suk-yeol may have to kick off his term without a new prime minister
On May 5, just five days ahead of the inauguration of South Korea’s next president, preparations for an inauguration ceremony held outside the National Assembly are underway. (Kim Bong-gyu/The Hankyoreh)
On May 5, just five days ahead of the inauguration of South Korea’s next president, preparations for an inauguration ceremony held outside the National Assembly are underway. (Kim Bong-gyu/The Hankyoreh)

Only four days remain until the Yoon Suk-yeol administration kicks off, but Yoon’s Cabinet picks have been mired in controversies regarding their ethics and qualifications, which has led to uncertainties concerning who will officially be joining the incoming Cabinet.

In urging prime minister nominee Han Duck-soo to voluntarily resign, the Democratic Party is attempting to prevent other “unfit” Cabinet picks, such as justice minister nominee Han Dong-hoon, from being confirmed. If the National Assembly’s confirmation of prime minister nominee Han Duck-soo is delayed amid the tug-of-war between Yoon and the Democratic Party, the Yoon administration may have to begin its term without a new prime minister and work with ministers of the Moon Jae-in administration for the foreseeable future.

During a Thursday phone call with the Hankyoreh, Democratic Party floor leader Park Hong-keun said regarding the Yoon administration’s Cabinet picks, “There are no words to describe the personnel catastrophe [. . .] It’s appalling that [the Yoon administration] recommended appointees riddled with problems in such a hypocritical manner.”

Park was not only referring to deputy prime minister for social affairs and education minister nominee Kim In-chul, who stepped down from his appointment on Tuesday after it was revealed that his entire family received scholarships from Fulbright Korea, an organization with which he had close ties; but also prime minister nominee Han Duck-soo, whose stint at the law firm Kim & Chang as an advisor earned him handsome advising fees after he retired from public service; as well as health and welfare minister nominee Chung Ho-young, who is being accused of nepotism and called on to resign even by those within the People Power Party.

Confirmation hearings for the Yoon administration’s ministerial nominees have reached the final stage, but out of the 11 appointees who finished their hearings as of Thursday, only three had their hearing report approved by the National Assembly: deputy prime minister for economic affairs and finance minister nominee Choo Kyung-ho, environment minister nominee Han Wha-jin, and science minister nominee Lee Jong-ho. In the case of justice minister nominee Han Dong-hoon, who allegedly helped his daughter pad her resume for college admission purposes, his confirmation hearing has been postponed to Monday — one day before Yoon’s inauguration — due to insufficient materials submitted by the nominee and problems regarding the selection of witnesses.

The Democratic Party is assuming that Kim In-chul — who withdrew from contention — in addition to Chung are Yoon’s throw-away cards. At the same time, the party is attempting to bring about the resignations of Han Dong-hoon as well as interior minister nominee Lee Sang-min and land minister nominee Won Hee-ryong.

A key official within the Democratic Party’s parliamentary leadership said, “If [the Yoon administration] pushes ahead with ministerial appointments that the Democratic Party cannot accept while prime minister nominee Han Duck-soo is being heavily criticized for his flaws, it will naturally have a negative effect on Han Duck-soo’s confirmation.”

This statement suggests that the Democratic Party will link the confirmation voting of other ministerial nominees with that of Han Duck-soo, who needs majority approval from the National Assembly in order to be confirmed.

Still, preventing the confirmation of Han Duck-soo, who previously served as prime minister for the Roh Moo-hyun administration, would pose problems for the Democratic Party as well.

If the confirmation of a new prime minister is delayed, the Yoon administration’s first Cabinet will inevitably have a difficult time launching, as the prime minister has the right to nominate Cabinet members. If Han Duck-soo’s confirmation vote is postponed to after Yoon’s inauguration, or if Han Duck-soo’s appointment is voted down, the Yoon administration may have to kick off with only a fraction of its key positions filled, with current Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum having to recommend ministerial nominations to fill Yoon’s Cabinet.

A close associate of Yoon commented that the president-elect is considering appointing Choo Kyung-ho as deputy prime minister of economic affairs through the cooperation of Kim Boo-kyum, after which Choo would temporarily operate the Cabinet as acting prime minister.

Regarding the situation, the People Power Party is pushing back against the Democratic Party, saying the latter is holding back the incoming administration. In a commentary, People Power Party spokesperson Kim Hyung-dong stated that “the Democratic Party’s obstruction of prime minister nominee Han [Duck-soo]’s confirmation is not just an act of standing in the way of the Yoon administration but a negation of its launch, which is another kind of outrage against the public, who yearn for the new administration to kick off.”

Yoon’s chief of staff Chang Je-won also told reporters that “Han [Duck-soo] is someone South Korea desperately needs who is knowledgeable in industrial, trade and diplomatic affairs.”

Chang added, “The Democratic Party should cooperate so that the new administration, which was created by the vote of the public, can successfully begin its term.”

By Song Chae Kyung-hwa, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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