President Park Geun-hye installed an unpopular nominee as maritime minister Wednesday, a move that will likely spark opposition protests at a time when she needs its cooperation on an extra budget proposal and other matters.
Yoon Jin-sook, an oceanographer, was formally appointed as minister of oceans and fisheries, along with three other minister-level officials. The others were Choi Mun-kee as science
minister, Chae Dong-wook as prosecutor-general and Lee Kyeong-jae as head of the Korea Communications Commission.
The appointments completed the formation of the Cabinet, 52 days after Park took office.
Park has been under pressure to withdraw Yoon's nomination after the candidate demonstrated ignorance about issues related to the position during a parliamentary confirmation hearing early this month.
The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) has raised serious questions about Yoon's qualifications and refused to adopt a parliamentary report on her hearing, the only action the party can take to express its objections. Some local media even called her "Minister Ignorance."
Park, however, has indicated her intention to go ahead with Yoon's appointment. On Monday, she asked the National Assembly to send her its confirmation hearing report on Yoon by Tuesday, a procedural move necessary before Park can formally appoint the nominee.
That move made Park eligible to appoint Yoon starting from Wednesday.
In a dinner meeting with opposition lawmakers Tuesday, Park also asked for their understanding, saying Yoon is an unusual female talent and has expertise. Park also called for the opposition to be more generous when thinking of the candidate.
In South Korea, ministerial nominees are required to undergo parliamentary confirmation hearings as part of efforts to check ethical standards and other qualifications. Regardless of the result of the hearings, however, the president can appoint nominees, though such forceful appointments could spark public backlash.
Opposition floor leader Park Ki-choon expressed regret about the planned appointment.
"This would be the culmination of the (president's) personnel affairs disaster," the lawmaker said during a party meeting, referring to the criticism Park has faced after a series of nominees resigned over ethical lapses and other allegations in her first months in office.
"It is deeply regrettable that things have come this far even though the National Assembly and the people put up objections," he said, warning that Yoon's appointment would be a burden for the president.
Yoon's appointment could also affect Park's push to get a supplementary budget proposal passed through parliament at an early date to help revitalize South Korea's economy faced with gloomy market conditions at home and abroad.
On Tuesday, the government finalized an extra budget worth 17.3 trillion won (US$15.4 billion), the largest since 2009 when the nation unveiled 28.4 trillion won in additional spending in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Park also needs opposition cooperation to pass a package of stimulus measures for the sluggish real estate market and to legislate measures to carry out "economic democratization" and other campaign promises. (Yonhap News)