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Chung Sye-kyun tapped for prime minister

Six-term lawmaker Rep. Chung Sye-kyun of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea was nominated for the post of prime minister on Tuesday.

“The government has endeavored to reform old systems, and (establish an) innovative and inclusive economy to create a country (where) the people ‘live well together,’” President Moon Jae-in said in announcing the nomination.

“To do this, the most important thing is concentrating the strengths of the people through unity and harmony, and to achieve results (for) people’s livelihoods and economy so that the people can feel the changes themselves. It was deemed that nominee Chung Sye-kyun is the person most suited for such demands of the times.”

Chung Sye-kyun (Yonhap)
Chung Sye-kyun (Yonhap)

Moon went on to list Chung’s merits, saying he is well versed in economic matters and that he has a long record of experience in politics.

Chung is a six-term lawmaker of the Democratic Party. 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.

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.

“Most of all, nominee Chung Sye-kyun has placed importance on dialogue and compromise,” said Moon, adding that Chung’s personality has allowed him to practice the “politics of listening.”

Moon added that while he had concerns about nominating a person who had headed the legislature as the prime minister, he considered the ability to work with the opposition and bring about national unity to be more important.

A prime minister nominee is required to undergo a parliamentary confirmation hearing. Unlike government ministers, a prime minister nominee must be approved by the National Assembly before the president can make the appointment.

“(I) will concentrate on reviving the economy, and (achieving) national unity,” Chung said at a press conference at the National Assembly, adding that he feels a heavy responsibility at being nominated at a time of many challenges in Korea and abroad.

Saying that Moon asked for the “politics of harmony,” Chung said that he would communicate via any means possible and that he would strive to increase communication between the ruling and opposition parties, and between the parliament and the government.

Regarding criticism that a former National Assembly speaker taking the post of prime minister is inappropriate under the principle of separation of powers, Chung said he had considered the matter but judged that such factors could be set aside if it was for the people.

In announcing Chung’s nomination, Moon also thanked current Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon for his service and hinted at Lee’s future plans, saying he considered allowing Lee to pursue “his own politics” to be the right thing to do.

While Lee has not issued a formal statement, it has been rumored that he will run for a parliamentary seat in next year’s general elections.

It has been speculated that should Lee be replaced as prime minister, he may run in Seoul’s Jongno constituency, which is currently represented by Chung. Lee is also considered to be one of the favorites for the next presidential election, having topped various polls for most of the year.

By Choi He-suk (