While the chaos of the presidential election period had put the limelight on the presidential candidates, when Jae-in Moon cemented his position as the 19th President of South Korea, the focus shifted to his picks for his closest aides. On May 10, President Moon announced his first four cabinet nominees and seats: Nak-yon Lee for prime minister; Jong-seok Im for chief of staff, confirmed; Hoon Suh for National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief; and Young-Hoon Joo for security chief, confirmed. The picks reflect President Moon’s determination to be the “people’s president” and to emphasize cleansing of the corruption that blighted former President Geun-hye Park’s administration, all the while maintaining a tricky balance between the different political parties.
Prime minister nominee Nak-yon Lee recently served as South Jeolla Province Governor. The four-term legislator of the Democratic Party won the trust of President Moon when he maintained party dominance in the politically crucial Honam region. While his hearing begins on May 24, in which he expects to meet resistance from Liberty Korea Party, Lee will meet with the president in advance to fill the 17 cabinet seats. Lee underscored his resolve to regain the trust of the citizens through active communication, which Park administration severely lacked. As prime minister, he shoulders the tasks of stabilizing and unifying the country, split after the presidential impeachment.
Jong-seok Im, an Assembly member and former student-activist, has been selected for his drive and comprehensive political resume. Despite his young age of 51 years, Im and his six-year experience on Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee is projected to assist greatly in diplomatic matters. Im also met with the Speaker and Deputy Speakers of the National Assembly to promote smooth collaboration between the parliament and the presidential office.
Hoon Suh, the former third deputy director of the NIS, will bring his expertise with North Korean and diplomatic affairs to the coalition. Suh has aided two Korean summits and is a visiting professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University. He will moderate the volatile situation between the two Koreas and reform NIS to strengthen national security.
A stream of additional selections continued over the week since the election day. Young-chan Yoon, former vice president of Naver Corporation, was announced as Blue House Press Secretary. In addition, President Moon specified three more secretaries: Byung-hun Jun, Seung-chang Ha, and Su-hyun Kim as Senior Secretary to the President for Political Affairs, Social Innovation, and Political Affairs respectively. Jun, who served as the chief strategy director for President Moon’s campaign, visited the National Assembly to encourage cooperative governance between the opposing parties. Ha will follow the president’s social and economic policies, especially regarding labor. Kim has served under former President Moo-hyun Roh as secretaries of social divisions, and will counsel housing, social welfare, and urban policy reform.
Meanwhile, two professors have been nominated for secretarial titles. Professor Kuk Cho of Seoul National University has been at the heart of a controversy since his nomination as the Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs, a seat usually given to former prosecutors. After the nomination, it was revealed that his mother had been charged for tax arrears. Though he has publicly apologized, some still called for his resignation, seeing him unfit for the responsibility of his job; As a member of Supreme Court’s Sentencing Commission, Cho leads the crusade for the uprooting of corruption. He expressed intentions of investigating former Secretary for Civil Affairs Byung- Woo Woo, whose misdeeds he believes have been buried unjustly during the investigations of Choi Soon-sil scandal.
Additionally, Professor Hyun-ock Cho set a new precedence as the first woman to serve the position of the Chief Secretary for Personnel Affairs. These atypical appointments of civilians further accentuated President Moon’s effort to avoid any ties with transgressions of the previous government.
Most recently, Joung-do Lee’s post as Senior Secretary for Administrative Affairs surprised many. The former official from the finance ministry had no previous ties to President Moon but was selected for his aptitude in budget and finance planning. The secretarial job is infamous for abuse of authority, as all three appointees from the Roh, Lee, and Park administrations faced investigations for misappropriation. President Moon stated he wished to start anew, by valuing skill over backgrounds and prioritizing transparency of fund operations.
Rest of the nominations and assignments will flood the news over the next few weeks. Korea waits with bated breath for the crucial nominations of defense and diplomatic affairs, most importantly the Chief of National Security Council. The diplomatic tension left the nation on edge, and citizens and legislators alike desire immediate instatement of the necessary administrators. The administration still has much sieving to do in the upcoming months; the newest appointments symbolize a much-welcome breath of fresh air in the dust cloud that had been left by political chaos.