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'Park can be probed for scandal'

President Park Geun-hye can be investigated over the Choi Soon-sil scandal despite conflicting constitutional interpretations, Prime Minister nominee Kim Byung-joon said Thursday, adding that all people are “equal before the law.”

At a news conference, the public policy professor at Kookmin University pledged to exert “100 percent” the constitutionally assured prime minister’s right to recommend the appointment and dismissal of Cabinet members, if approved by the National Assembly.

Mindful of criticism over the president’s lack of communication, Kim also introduced plans to set up consultative mechanisms with the ruling and opposition camps as well as civil society. 
Kim Byong-joon (Yonhap)
Kim Byong-joon (Yonhap)
“There are many questions regarding an investigation involving the president. My answer is that all people, including the president, are equal before the law,” said the nominee, who served late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun.

“Despite mixed interpretations over the Constitution exempting the president from prosecution, my position is it’s possible to investigate her. But given her status as head of state, we need to be prudent about the procedure and method.”

Kim’s nomination came amid surging calls to hold the president accountable for the influence-peddling scandal involving her decades-long confidante. Lawmakers have also been urging Park to launch a neutral Cabinet led by a prime minister with personnel management authority.

But the three opposition parties, which dominate the assembly, vowed to reject his mandatory confirmation hearing, taking issue with Cheong Wa Dae’s unilateral announcement without any prior discussions. 

Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, reaffirmed the stance after the conference, saying the intra-opposition agreement remains intact regardless of the nominee’s “personality, qualifications or appeals.” The minor opposition People’s Party echoed the view, issuing a statement calling for Kim to table his bid for the premiership. 

The ruling Saenuri Party, in contrast, urged the opposition forces to join the confirmation hearing or “let the confusion and instability deepen,” saying Kim’s appointment would facilitate their demand for the neutral Cabinet.

The scandal is essentially rooted in the lopsided presidential power and assistance mechanism, the nominee said, raising the possibility to recommend Park’s withdrawal of her party affiliation if the issue would further hamper state management.

“I am well aware of the doubts and criticism about me, particularly given the problems that arose in the run-up to the nomination due to a brief breakdown of the Cheong Wa Dae system,” Kim said.

“I regret it myself, and will do my best to fulfill my responsibility and this historical calling,” he added, pausing for a moment to hold back tears.

During a one-on-one meeting last Saturday, Park agreed to let him take over economic and social policies and suggest new members of the Cabinet, Kim noted.

Though still opposed to some of her initiatives such as the reintroduction of state-authored history textbooks and a planned deployment of the US missile shield, he was confident that any disagreement could be resolved through talks and compromise. 

Kim also displayed resistance to Park’s recent call for talks on a constitutional amendment for a change in the current single-term, five-year presidency, which he said ought to be driven by the people and the assembly.

“With the president facing national criticism, the National Assembly, both its ruling and opposition sides, is a source of strength to engineer the government,” Kim said, soliciting their support.

“I will create a standing consultative body that will provide the strength. And in that process, a neutral Cabinet will be formed … and I am also considering overhauling the Prime Minister’s Office.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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