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Bumpy start expected for Yoon administration due to Cabinet vacuum

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President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol delivers congratulatory remarks at a ceremony celebrating Buddha's Birthday at Jogye Temple in Seoul's Jongno District, Sunday, two days ahead of his inauguration slated for Tuesday. Joint Press Corps
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol delivers congratulatory remarks at a ceremony celebrating Buddha's Birthday at Jogye Temple in Seoul's Jongno District, Sunday, two days ahead of his inauguration slated for Tuesday. Joint Press Corps

New Cabinet likely to be operated under acting prime minister

By Jung Da-min

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is set to be sworn into office, Tuesday, but his administration is expected to get off to a bumpy start as he finds several seats of his Cabinet unfilled due to delays in ministerial nominee hearings at the National Assembly amid ongoing bipartisan conflicts linked to corruption allegations.

Plus, the Cabinet vacuum is expected to continue after his inauguration, because Yoon is also determined not to succumb to calls by the current ruling liberal Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and the minor opposition progressive Justice Party to withdraw some of the nominations.

Yoon's conservative People Power Party (PPP) is seeking cooperation from the DPK and the Justice Party, but both sides have yet to iron out their differences over the nominees. In particular, it is unlikely that the Assembly will approve the appointment of Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo before the first Cabinet meeting of the Yoon administration slated for May 17.

Regarding the situation, an official in the president-elect's team said in a phone interview Sunday with Yonhap news agency that the next administration will operate under an acting prime minister system, with next Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Choo Kyung-ho taking the role. Choo will double as the finance minister.

"As there should not be any vacuum in terms of the continuity of administering state affairs, we have no choice but to carry on with acting Prime Minister Choo Kyung-ho if the appointment of Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo is not approved by the National Assembly," the official said. "We are also considering a contingency plan in which deputy ministers will take the roles of ministers who have yet to be appointed."

Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo leaves a meeting room for his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul's Yeouido, May 3, as the morning session ends. Joint Press Corps
Prime Minister nominee Han Duck-soo leaves a meeting room for his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul's Yeouido, May 3, as the morning session ends. Joint Press Corps

So far, only four out of a total 19 nominees have passed the National Assembly hearings. The four include Employment and Labor Minister nominee Lee Jeong-sik, Science and ICT Minister nominee Lee Jong-ho, Environment Minister nominee Han Hwa-jin and Choo.

Political watchers predict that Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum will recommend the appointment of Choo as acting prime minister to Yoon according to the law. Then, after Kim resigns, Choo is expected to serve as the acting prime minister to help Yoon organize the new Cabinet.

Hearing for justice minister nominee set for Monday.

Five more hearings are set to be held this week, including those for Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon and Trade, Industry and Energy Minister nominee Lee Chang-yang, Monday, SMEs and Startups Minister nominee Rep. Lee Young and Gender Equality and Family Minister nominee Kim Hyun-sook on Wednesday and Unification Minister nominee Rep. Kwon Young-se on Thursday.

If the National Assembly's approval of their appointments takes longer, vice ministers are likely to take charge of each government organization.

There are also other minister nominees whose nominations have yet to be approved by the National Assembly, including Foreign Affairs Minister nominee Rep. Park Jin, Health and Welfare Minister nominee Chung Ho-young, Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister nominee Won Hee-ryong, Interior and Safety Minister nominee Lee Sang-min and Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister nominee Park Bo-gyoon.

The president-elect has asked the National Assembly to approve their nominations by Monday, which is seen as his will to push ahead with their appointments regardless of National Assembly approval, if they are not approved by Monday.

Members of an honor guard rehearse for the inauguration ceremony of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, slated for Tuesday at the National Assembly in Seoul's Yeouido, Sunday. Joint Press Corps
Members of an honor guard rehearse for the inauguration ceremony of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, slated for Tuesday at the National Assembly in Seoul's Yeouido, Sunday. Joint Press Corps

For the nomination of the health minister, controversies continue surrounding his alleged use of influence when he was the head of Kyungpook National University Hospital to help his daughter and son transfer to Kyungpook National University School of Medicine in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Chung has denied the allegations, saying there were no wrongful or illegal acts.

Education minister nominee Kim In-chul resigned on May 3, after facing allegations of misconduct during his term as the president of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and separate allegations that he used his influence to help his family members receive Fulbright scholarships, jointly sponsored by Seoul and Washington to promote bilateral cultural and educational exchanges.

The National Assembly is expected to approve the nominations of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister nominee Chung Hwang-keun and Oceans and Fisheries Minister nominee Cho Seung-hwan, soon, according to political sources.

A banner commemorating the inauguration of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration hangs outside the main building of the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul's Yongsan District, Sunday. The ministry building will be used as the new presidential office after Yoon's inauguration on Tuesday. Yonhap
A banner commemorating the inauguration of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration hangs outside the main building of the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul's Yongsan District, Sunday. The ministry building will be used as the new presidential office after Yoon's inauguration on Tuesday. Yonhap



Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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