Prime Minister-nominee Lee Nak-yon on Wednesday came under intense scrutiny over his credentials and a string of allegations about his family during a parliamentary confirmation hearing, the first test for cooperation between the nascent government and opposition-led parliament.
Opposition lawmakers grilled the former South Jeolla Province governor and four-term lawmaker to see if he is fit to take the government's No. 2 post amid a series of economic and security challenges.
"I will take this confirmation hearing as an opportunity to look back on my humble life and think again about the heavy tasks for our nation," Lee said during his opening remarks.
The hearing will end on Thursday with the legislature set to adopt a report on its results the following day. The major parties have agreed to vote on Lee as early as next Monday.
Lee's appointment requires consent from a majority of the total 299 lawmakers. The ruling Democratic Party has 120 seats, while the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and its splinter Bareun Party control 107 seats and 20 seats, respectively.
The hearing started with criticism from LKP Rep. Kyeong Dae-soo. He accused Lee of failing to sufficiently provide documents related to the allegations against his family members.
The allegations range from his son's exemption from military service to his artist wife's sale of paintings to a public firm at unusually high prices and his mother's suspected real estate speculation. Lee has denied most of the allegations.
"It is unprecedented that a nominee has refused to offer documents on the pretext of protecting personal information," Kyeong said.
The ruling party hit back, claiming Lee has provided more information than previous prime minister-nominees.
On his son's military duty exemption, Lee called for understanding, noting that his son received a series of surgical procedures for his "weak" health condition.
His son was exempt from military service after undergoing surgery for a shoulder dislocation in 2002. But a year earlier, he took a state physical checkup that listed him as fit for active duty.
"It is not that (my son) intentionally had his shoulder injured," he said. "As a father, my heart aches as my son's body frequently (has had problems)."
Asked about whether the nominee thinks the North is a "main enemy," Lee said that from the military standpoint, the communist state is a "primary enemy." The labeling has been a point of attack from conservatives, as they have sought to frame the liberal government as weak on security.
"But the prime minister cannot only think (about the North) from the military perspective," Lee added.
On the issue of the North's human rights situation, Lee noted "the need for improvement."
On the diplomatic front, Lee said that there is "no doubt" that the South Korea-U.S. alliance is the "core pillar" of Seoul's external policy.
Lee also reiterated the Moon government's basic position that dialogue with the North is "difficult" unless there is any change in the North's provocative behavior. He also noted that the international community's focus on sanctions against the North for its denuclearization should be "respected." (Yonhap)