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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 2)

All Headlines 07:04 June 02, 2017

Tasks facing new premier
: Lee mustn't hesitate to give candid advice to Moon

New Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon assumed office Wednesday after winning approval at the National Assembly. It took 21 days for the former South Jeolla Province governor to be endorsed after President Moon Jae-in nominated him, the shortest period of time ever.

The legislature passed the confirmation motion for Lee, a journalist-turned-politician, after a grueling vetting process. Among the 188 lawmakers present for the vote, 164 approved of Lee, 20 opposed and two abstained. Two votes were invalid.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party boycotted the vote, calling him unfit for the post. The conservative party charged Lee with a string of allegations, including one that Lee's wife used a false address to get assigned to a school in southern Seoul as a teacher.

The brouhaha that erupted in the process of the new prime minister being confirmed at the parliament is emblematic of the heap of challenges ahead of him.

His utmost task is certainly boosting "cooperative governance," a key national agenda item President Moon Jae-in has championed since taking office May 10. The opposition-led parliament -- the ruling Democratic Party of Korea holds only 120 seats, falling far short of a majority in the 300-seat Assembly -- makes it all the more necessary for this to work.

Although Lee managed to pass the confirmation hearing, other nominees to top Cabinet posts are facing strong opposition. Kang Kyung-wha, the nominee for foreign minister, and Kim Sang-jo, who was tapped to head the Fair Trade Commission, are facing criticism because of a variety of ethics breaches.

In his inauguration speech, Lee vowed to be a prime minister in the "lowest place" who always communicates with citizens. We hope that he will pursue national unity and reconciliation, transcending ideological, regional and generational differences.

Toward that end, he needs to be an empowered premier who will actually take charge of day-to-day state affairs, not content with being a "ceremonial prime minister" as the No. 2 in the executive branch. Given that President Moon promised to guarantee the premier's power stipulated in the Constitution during Wednesday's appointment ceremony, we expect that Lee will become an empowered leader.

But there are already concerns that Cheong Wa Dae might pull far ahead in a fight for power, considering its bloated secretariat. Prime Minister Lee should play a role in mitigating the power of the presidential office and let the Cabinet exercise authority substantially. He can set an example by recommending nominees for the remaining Cabinet posts, as stipulated in the Constitution.

Lee became the prime minister after much meandering. For genuine cooperative governance, he ought to devote himself to activating communication between the National Assembly and the administration. So sometimes, he might have to give candid advice to President Moon when necessary
(END)

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