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Confirmation hearings off to a rough start with liberal boycott of PM nominee

Parties wrangle over review materials

Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo closes his eyes during the parliamentary confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on Monday. (Yonhap)
Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo closes his eyes during the parliamentary confirmation hearing at the National Assembly on Monday. (Yonhap)

The parliamentary confirmation hearings for President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s Cabinet picks got off to a rough start Monday, with rival parties boycotting the hearing for Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo, citing a lack of sufficient review materials.

Han’s two-day confirmation hearing kicked off at 10 a.m. with only six lawmakers present of the 13 members that make up the special committee for personnel vetting at the National Assembly.

Five were from the future ruling People Power Party and one, Rep. Kang Byung-won of the future opposition Democratic Party of Korea, came in only to complain of Han not submitting all the information requested, then left.

The confirmation hearing was adjourned less than an hour after it began, and it was unclear when the proceedings would resume, despite earlier plans to pick up the session at 2 p.m.

The special committee members of the Democratic Party said the hearing “cannot but be extended,” as they need more time to review information when Han does respond to their request to submit additional materials.

While the deadline for the National Assembly to complete Han’s parliamentary confirmation hearing is Tuesday, the Democratic Party also said the deadline can be pushed back if parties reach an agreement.

“Conducting a proper hearing to thoroughly inspect the nominee is the way to fulfill our duty to the people, not meeting a timetable,” Rep. Kang said in the press conference.

The deadline was set in accordance with the National Assembly Act and the Confirmation Hearing Act, which stipulate the vetting process finishes within 20 days after the request for a parliamentary hearing is made. The request for Han‘s hearing was submitted to the National Assembly on April 7.

On Sunday, lawmakers of the Democratic Party and progressive opposition Justice Party held a press conference where they said that the prime minister nominee had failed to submit requested information. Saying they lack the materials to review and properly assess the candidate, the parties had demanded to postpone the Monday’s confirmation hearing.

“Han’s office is not providing the materials, making excuses such as that the materials need approval on giving out personal information; that revealing them would invade privacy; that the preservation period for the data ended; that they are trade secrets,” the liberal parties said in the press briefing.

Seats at the parliamentary confirmation hearing for Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo are seen empty as lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Korea and Justice Party boycott the event on Monday. (Yonhap)
Seats at the parliamentary confirmation hearing for Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo are seen empty as lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Korea and Justice Party boycott the event on Monday. (Yonhap)

Han, 72, has denied several allegations in regards to conflicts of interest, having served many high-ranking government positions, including as the prime minister and finance minister in the past. President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol named Han as the prime minister for his new Cabinet on April 3.

Among the controversies surrounding Han is how he took hefty salaries totaling 1.8 billion won ($1.46 million) as an adviser at a law firm from December 2017 to 2022, after he had retired from public service.

Arriving at the parliamentary confirmation hearing site, Han denied the opponents’ claim that he had not provided enough of the materials requested.

The future ruling People Power Party also denounced the boycott, saying it was the Democratic Party that had made “unreasonable” requests.

“It is unreasonable to say Han did not provide enough materials. He made sincere efforts, but there are just too many requests for materials that are impossible to submit,” Rep. Sung Il-jong of the People Power Party said in a party meeting.

“The Democratic Party should ask for materials that are reasonable. It is also not respectful of the people to postpone the hearing so suddenly,” he added.

The People Power Party said the Democratic Party and Justice Party are requesting three to four times more materials than they had for prime minister nominees for the incumbent Moon Jae-in administration. According to the future ruling party, 319 requests were made for Lee Nak-yon and 250 requests for Chung Sye-kyun, each of whom served as prime minister in the Moon government. For the current prime minister, 347 requests were submitted.

“(As of Sunday) there have been a total of 1,090 requests for information on separate issues. When we compare the number of requests made for the past prime ministers, it is over three to four times the amount,” the People Power Party said.

The People Power Party also criticized the opponents, saying they are asking for irrelevant or unavailable data, such as real estate transaction records of Han’s parents, who passed away decades ago.

In Korea, parliamentary approval is required for the official appointment of a prime minister. The bipartisan parliamentary committee has to first reach an agreement over the nominee to form a confirmation hearing report. Then the report has to pass in the parliamentary plenary session of the 300-seat National Assembly.

Because the Democratic Party and Justice Party stand as the majority, holding over 170 seats combined, there is the possibility that Han may not pass the parliamentary vetting process.

Conflict between the parties of the incoming and outgoing government casts a gloomy outlook for the series of parliamentary confirmation hearings to ensue for other ministerial nominees for Yoon’s Cabinet. 

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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