The Korea Herald


Partisan rage erupts over Yoon’s new Cabinet picks

By Kim Arin

Published : Oct. 5, 2023 - 18:05

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Yu In-chon, former culture minister nominated for the second time for the same post, speaks during a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on Thursday. (Yonhap) Yu In-chon, former culture minister nominated for the second time for the same post, speaks during a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on Thursday. (Yonhap)

The confirmation hearings for President Yoon Suk Yeol’s nominations for three Cabinet posts have become the latest partisan battleground, as the nominees faced intense scrutiny appearing before the National Assembly on Thursday.

The first day of the hearing for Kim Haeng, who has been tapped for the position of minister of gender equality and family, was interrupted by Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers’ vociferous objections to the nomination choice.

The gender equality minister nominee was accused by the opposition party of making dubious cryptocurrency deals with a company while running an online outlet called Wikitree in 2018. Kim rejected the accusations in response to a question posed by Democratic Party Rep. Moon Jeong-bog, who retorted, “Don’t talk back.”

Democratic Party lawmakers also claimed that the nominee had secured the nomination through her alleged ties to first lady Kim Keon Hee, which she denied.

Similarly, former Minister of Culture Yu In-chon, who was nominated to the same position for the second time, clashed with Democratic Party lawmakers at the hearing.

Yu, who served as the culture minister under the conservative former President Lee Myung-bak, is accused of playing a role in the creation of an alleged blacklist of celebrities and artists over their supposed pro-North Korea stances during his term. While he denied knowledge of the so-called list, Democratic Party lawmakers continued to accuse him of providing false testimony before the Assembly.

The president’s decision to choose Yu as the culture minister has sparked fierce protest from some members of the creative community, who view him as a threat to freedom of expression, citing his possible role in the making of the blacklist.

Bumps are also anticipated for Rep. Shin Won-sik, the army general-turned-lawmaker nominated to lead the ministry of national defense, who awaits a final nod from the Assembly. The Democratic Party complains that the defense minister nominee has an alleged pro-Japan bias, and is therefore unfit to become the country’s defense chief.

The Democratic Party, which controls the Assembly, warned that the party would not confirm the nominations. In an escalation of the partisan strife, the party has demanded that Yoon replace his entire Cabinet over what it called the “failures” of the president’s first year in office. Using its majority in the Assembly, the party voted to pass a proposal to impeach Prime Minister Han Duck-soo last month.

Before Han, three of Yoon’s Cabinet ministers -- Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin, Minister of Interior Lee Sang-min and Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup -- have faced pressure from the opposition party to step down.

The ruling People Power Party says that the Democratic Party is defying the political tradition of respecting the president’s selections of candidates to fill his Cabinet, unless under exceptional circumstances, and called the opposition’s efforts to block the confirmations groundless.

Yoon can appoint nominees without the Assembly’s confirmation, however. Under the current law, the president is entitled to finalize appointments even if they fail to win approval from the Assembly.

Since last week, the top seat at the Supreme Court has also remained vacant for the first time in 30 years amid the Assembly's scramble to reach a consensus over Yoon’s pick, Lee Gyun-yong, a senior judge at the Seoul High Court. The Democratic Party opposed his nomination on the grounds that he failed to report assets worth about 1 billion won ($750,000).