By Park Ji-won, Kim Yoo-chul
President Moon Jae-in's confirmation of Cho Kuk as justice minister will bring a heavy political storm, as opposition parties vowed, Monday, to launch a pressure campaign on the minister including a plan to submit requests to name a special investigator to look into corruption and nepotism allegations against Cho.
"South Korea's democracy is dead. We plan to use all available cards responding to President Moon's nomination of Cho to the justice minister position including a plan to team up with minor opposition parties to submit requests to name a special investigator to look into Cho's alleged corruption and nepotism allegations," a spokesman at the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) said in a party commentary after the President's confirmation of Cho, Monday afternoon.
The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (BMP) said it will discuss action plans with the LKP. "Floor leaders of the country's major political parties were discussing detailed plans for the next Assembly sessions, but I received a short phone call from senior presidential secretary for state affairs Kang Ki-jung in which he said President Moon appointed Cho as justice minister as planned. It's simply unacceptable. We will do what we can do but other lawmakers oppose the President's decision," BMP floor leader Rep. Oh Shin-hwan said during a hurriedly arranged party meeting.
Despite growing allegations of corruption and nepotism against Cho, the President appointed him to the position of justice minister.
Cho's nomination galvanized the President's existing and progressive political supporters who view him as the "right person" to push for President Moon's agenda to transform the prosecutor's office.
But opponents view Cho as "unfit" for the job because of allegations of hypocrisy and favoritism involving his family, his daughter's schooling and relatives' investments in a private equity fund suspected of dubious operations. Naming these allegations, they say Cho is unqualified for the position given the President's repeated emphasis on creating a fair and transparent society.
Cho was slammed for hypocrisy when it emerged he had sent his daughter to the kind of elite foreign high school he had criticized and she had appeared to benefit from family connections. South Korea is a competitive society where the level of education is regarded as vital to social and professional prospects and the justice minister earlier had said such schools led to a "a less fair society."
The President doesn't need National Assembly approval to appoint a minister.
Lee In-young, floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), said the party respects President Moon's decision. "We just welcomed the decision. Cho is the right person to proceed with the tough task of reforming the prosecution. We will back Cho to complete his and President Moon's reform agenda as planned," Lee told reporters after the announcement.
The country's most progressive Justice Party, a de facto partner of the DPK, said in a statement that the party was sorry to see the allegations about Cho and his family, but it pledged to support him due to the party's expectation for prosecutorial reform which had been tried during past administrations but never achieved.
In a poll by local pollster Realmeter released last week, 56.2 percent of South Koreans respondents were opposed to Cho becoming justice minister, while 40.1 percent were in favor.
The ruling DPK are facing a key election next year, which would be critical for Moon to avoid "lame duck" status. The South Korean leader is facing challenges to diffuse an uncertain outlook for the country's export-dependent economy, which this year is projected to expand at the weakest pace in more than a decade.