President Park May Face Investigation Says New Prime Minister Nominee
SEOUL, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister-designate Kim Byong-joon said Thursday that an investigation into President Park Geun-hye is possible, but added it should be carried out in a prudent manner since she is still the country's leader.
"There are different interpretations of the Constitution. But I believe we can conduct an investigation into Park. As she is still the head of state, however, we should be prudent about the process and methods," Kim said during his first official meeting with reporters. "Everyone is equal before the law."
Kim said Park also asked him to take charge of economic and social affairs as the prime minister, amid concerns that the president will no longer be able to conduct regular duties in the face of public anger.
"The role of prime ministers as stipulated on the Constitution is simple. They receive orders from the president and control state affairs, and hold rights to request nomination or dismissal of Cabinet members," Kim said. "But I do not believe previous prime ministers exercised such rights."
Accordingly, Kim said he understands that he would be exercising broader rights throughout the economic and social realm.
The nominee, who served as a policy secretary to late President Roh Moon-hyun, was tapped to be South Korea's new prime minister on Wednesday in a move by the presidential office to soothe the public's anger amid allegations surrounding influence peddling and corruption by Park's confidante.
"I think the central issue surrounding the Choi Soon-sil scandal is the president's authority," the nominee added.
Kim also said he will consider asking Park to leave the Saenuri Party if her membership emerges as a drag on state affairs.'
"I know there are doubts and criticism," Kim also said concerning the opposition bloc's boycott against his nomination citing the presidential office's lack of communication with the parliament in the personnel-designation procedures. "I will do my best. I will not cling to my seat if I fail to fulfill my responsibilities and duties."
South Korea's three opposition parties officially decided to refuse to accept Kim's nomination despite his background of serving Roh, who is still admired by many in the liberal bloc.
The opposition is a challenge to him taking office, as the parliamentary hearings on the candidate call for the participation of more than half of the lawmakers and the backing of a majority.
While Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn earlier planned to hold a handover ceremony on Wednesday, the event was postponed amid concerns that stepping down and leaving the prime minister's seat vacant could lead to trouble in state affairs.
The nominee added his decision to accept the president's offer comes in line with the spirit of Roh Moo-hyun, adding it was the former president's vision to always be concerned about the country.
"It is hard for me to stay idle when the country is in disarray," Kim said. "Food in refrigerators spoils if the power is disconnected. The same applies for state affairs."
The nominee said he will make efforts to expand communication with the public and consider reorganizing systems at the prime ministers' office. Kim also said he may oppose existing state policies, including the publication of state-led history textbooks.
In November last year, the government announced it would revise the current textbook publication system so that middle and high school students will learn Korean history through state-authored textbooks starting in 2017.
On the controversy surrounding the Constitutional revision, Kim said it is inappropriate for the president to lead the debate, adding it should be discussed by the public and political parties.
Despite Kim's gesture of goodwill towards the liberal bloc, the opposition parties said they will continue to protest the nomination.
Rep. Choo Mi-ae, the head of the main opposition Democratic Party, claimed all the remarks made by Kim are meaningless.
She said it is a waste of time to even discuss Kim's remarks, highlighting that the designation came with total disregard for the National Assembly.'
Meanwhile, the prospect of a direct inquiry into the president appeared to be growing as presidential aides and investigation authorities, along with the prime minister nominee, did not rule out the possibility.
Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong told a parliamentary session that his ministry would review "the possibility and the need" for the president to face questioning if such a direct probe is necessary to verify the truth behind the political scandal.
Presidential aides also left open the possibility of the probe into the head of state, saying the presidential office would make a decision "should the direct inquiry become necessary."
Previously, both the justice minister and the presidential office were against any probe involving the president.
The shift in their stances came amid growing calls for Park to be questioned. The latest survey, conducted by local pollster Realmeter, showed more than 70 percent of those questioned are in favor of a probe into the president.