President Lee Myung-bak is expected to nominate a new justice minister and new prosecutor-general as early as Friday, an official said Thursday, as Lee faces opposition from within his own party against naming one of his secretaries for the minister’s post.
The nominations will be announced after consultations with the ruling Grand National Party and background checks on candidates to see if they are fit for the jobs, the presidential official said on condition of anonymity, declining to talk about specific candidates.
“We will have consultations with the party today,” the official said. “After final verifications, I believe we will be able to make an announcement as early as tomorrow.”
Lee is widely believed to be planning to name Kwon Jae-jin, a prosecutor-turned-presidential secretary, as justice minister. But some GNP members are opposed to the move over concerns it could raise questions over law enforcement’s neutrality ahead of next year’s general and presidential elections.
In an effort to calm such concern, Lee promised during a meeting with new GNP leaders Wednesday that he will consult party leaders about his pick for justice minister before making an announcement. Still, the widespread view is that Lee is expected to press ahead with Kwon’s nomination.
Privately, presidential aides have complained about the party’s concern, with one senior official calling it “nonsense” to bar people from taking ministerial jobs just because they served as presidential secretaries and are close to the president.
Along with a justice minister, Lee will also name a new chief of the prosecution after Prosecutor-General Kim Joon-gyu left office last week in protest over the passage of a bill that prosecutors claim restricts their oversight of police investigations.
Leading candidates for the job are Han Sang-dae, chief of the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office, and Cha Dong-min, head of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office. Han’s nomination could also raise eyebrows among the opposition parties because of his exemption from mandatory military service.
In South Korea, fulfillment of military service is considered a key ethical requirement for high-level office holders and politicians because in the past, children of influential people were often exempted from the service through illicit means.
“We have to see. It is difficult to predict who will be named among those being talked about now as candidates,” the presidential official said.