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Six-term lawmaker Chung rises as potential prime minister

The presidential office is looking into six-term lawmaker Rep. Chung Sye-kyun as a possible replacement for Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, local news outlets reported Thursday.

According to reports, Cheong Wa Dae received written confirmation from Chung agreeing to be subjected to the presidential office’s vetting process, Wednesday. 

Rep. Chung Sye-kyun. Yonhap
Rep. Chung Sye-kyun. Yonhap

Chung is a six-term lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. He served as National Assembly speaker from June 2016 to May 2018. He has also served as chairman and floor leader of the ruling party or previous iterations of it.

Chung’s reputation as an economy expert within the ruling party also adds credibility to Chung’s reported candidacy. To replace Lee, the presidential office is said to be looking for a figure with a strong economy-related background as part of its plans to focus on the economy.

Before entering politics, Chung worked at the now defunct Ssangyong group, rising to executive ranks, and served as industry minister in the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

While rumors surrounding Chung are gaining traction, the six-term lawmaker’s intentions remain unclear, with progressive bloc heavyweights claiming he has different ideas.

“(Chung) has much stronger intentions to run for a parliamentary seat (than become prime minister),” Rep. Woo Sang-ho of the Democratic Party said in a radio interview Thursday.

“Until recently, Chung has euphemistically stated that he has no such intentions when (the post of) prime minister was suggested.”

Woo added that the presidential office is not set on a single candidate for the post.

Chung himself has been quoted by a local news agency as saying that he is “working hard in (my) constituency of Jongno.”

Chung rose as a possible prime minister after the ruling party’s four-term lawmaker Rep. Kim Jin-pyo allegedly declined Cheong Wa Dae’s nomination. Kim is said to have faced strong opposition from the progressive bloc and nongovernmental organizations for backing the lowering of the corporate tax rate and postponing taxation of clergy.

Kim is said to have conveyed his decision to the presidential office, saying the progressive bloc’s opposition to his nomination could damage the ruling party in next year’s general elections.

A top Cheong Wa Dae official, however, said that she had not heard of such developments.

With Chung’s intentions unclear, and little time left in the year, the presidential office is also said to be considering keeping Lee in the current post for the time being.

As for Lee, he is rumored to be considering entering next year’s general elections. If he is to run for a constituency seat, Lee is required to resign from his post by Jan. 16. If Lee runs for a proportional representative’s post, he can maintain the current position until March 16.

While speculations about the prime minister’s post rise, Cheong Wa Dae is declining to confirm or reject related reports.

A top presidential official told reporters Thursday that none of the related reports are “fully right,” and that nothing on related matters has been decided.

By Choi He-suk (