President Yoon Suk-yeol arrives at the presidential office in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol on Friday approved the appointment of Lee Won-seok as the administration's first chief prosecutor, ending the monthslong leadership vacuum at the prosecution.
Yoon also confirmed the appointment of Han Ki-jeong, a Seoul National University law professor, as the chairman of the Fair Trade Commission.
Yoon told reporters during a doorstep interview Friday morning that he decided to push ahead with the delayed appointments as many have pointed out the Cabinet vacancies. The public, too, has already made fair judgment on the nominees, he added.
The appointments of prosecutor general and chief of the antitrust regulator have been delayed as the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea had refused to adopt confirmation hearing reports for the nominees, even after the legal deadline had passed early September.
Earlier on Wednesday, Yoon asked the National Assembly again to send confirmation hearing reports for the nominees by Thursday. But, the main opposition party has continued to refuse to do so.
The ruling People Power Party and the main opposition Democratic Party had opposing views on the appointments.
The ruling party said Yoon’s decision was “inevitable,” while the main opposition party claimed that the appointments bypassed the National Assembly.
People Power Party spokesperson Rep. Park Jung-ha said Friday that Yoon’s decision was “inevitable” since the positions have been vacant for so long. Park also criticized the main opposition party for not being cooperative.
On the other hand, Kim Eui-kyeom of the Democratic Party, reacted strongly against Yoon’s appointments. He said the Democratic Party could not adopt the reports on the nominees as they were unqualified for the positions.
Kim added that appointing nominees without the National Assembly’s consent appears to be a strategic disregard of the legislature.
The main opposition party has argued that Lee's strong allegiance to the president made him an unsuitable candidate.
Lee is one of Yoon’s close former aides and associates, like many other members in the Cabinet. Yoon and Lee worked together for the Samsung probe in 2007. Lee also helped Yoon with the probe into the power abuse scandal involving then-President Park Geun-hye in 2017. Lee also became a top official at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office after Yoon was appointed as prosecutor general in 2019. In the absence of former Prosecutor General Kim O-su since May, Lee served as the acting chief prosecutor as well.
Regarding the appointment of Han as FTC chairman, the main opposition party expressed worries that Han was too business-friendly to act as the head of the country’s corporate watchdog.
Han, a Seoul National University law professor and the former president of the Korea Insurance Research Institute, has served in government committees including at the Financial Services Commission and at the Justice Ministry.
This was the 12th time that President Yoon appointed Cabinet members without the approval of the National Assembly.
Yoon’s calls to appoint Cabinet members without the National Assembly’s consent has played a major role in the president's declining popularity in the polls.
Meanwhile, Yoon leaves the country on Sunday for a three-nation tour to the UK, US and Canada.
By Shim Woo-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org