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Lee likely to play safe with new P.M. pick

President Lee Myung-bak’s next choice for prime minister will likely be someone safe and less controversial as criticism mounts on him for nominating “problematic” personnel to top government posts.

Kim Tae-ho, Lee’s first choice for the premier, bowed out on Sunday in the face of strong public disapproval, after he failed to clear himself of accusations of corruption raised by opposition lawmakers during the confirmation hearing.

Two more of Lee’s Cabinet picks ― Shin Jae-min and Lee Jae-hoon, nominated for culture minister and knowledge economy minister respectively ― gave up their nominations on the same day, also mired in public controversy over their qualifications.

The search has begun for a new prime minister candidate, the Presidential Office of Cheong Wa Dae said Monday.

“We can’t leave the prime ministerial post vacant for long. So we are looking for a figure to meet appropriate standards and lead the Cabinet well,” Lee was quoted as saying by presidential spokesperson Kim Hee-jung.

However, Lee said he will not rush to find candidates for the ministers of culture and knowledge economy, keeping the incumbent ministers in office for a while.

The president formally appointed the rest of his nominees, including Jo Hyun-oh, who was designated on Aug. 8 as the National Police Agency commissioner.

The new prime minister nominee will be someone who “befits the president’s vision for a fair society,” the presidential office said.

Observers said the president, who surprised the nation by suggesting Kim, a 47-year-old political prodigy from poor peasant family, for the job of prime minister, is unlikely to gamble again.

The disgraced withdrawal of three nominees was a major political blow to Lee and the presidential office faces harsh criticism, even from within the ruling camp, for lax screening of the nominees, they said.

“I hope this time nominees will be checked more thoroughly for their qualifications, as the president had said to do so,” Rep. Ahn Sang-soo, the chairman of the ruling Grand National Party said during a gathering Sunday of National Assembly members belonging to the party.

Lee told his secretaries last week to toughen the personnel screening process.

Some ruling party members even demand Lee sack secretaries responsible for the nomination debacle.

“Those in charge of the screening of the nominees should be held responsible, whoever they are,” GNP floor leader Rep. Kim Moo-sung said.

The aftermath of the nominees’ withdrawals is likely to overshadow discussions at the two-day gathering of GNP lawmakers being held in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province.

“A large number of party members share the view that there is a serious problem in Cheong Wa Dae’s personnel management,” said a lawmaker participating in the event.

The main opposition Democratic Party, meanwhile, blasted Lee for pressing ahead with the appointments of Jo and some other nominees, who it said are as problematic as the three that dropped out earlier.

Jo has been under harsh public criticism for his remarks, made before his nomination, which opposition lawmakers believe defamed the late President Roh Moo-hyun and the bereaved families of the victims of the sunken naval ship Cheonan.

“Cheong Wa Dae apparently hasn’t come to its senses yet, even after its nominees for the prime minister and two ministerial positions withdrew because of public disapproval,” DP spokesperson Rep. Cho Young-teck said.
By Lee Sun-young