SOUTH KOREA - President Park Geun-hye on Thursday nominated Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn as the new prime minister, calling him "the right man" to achieve political reforms proposed in the wake of a high-profile graft scandal involving her close confidants.
The announcement came nearly a month after former Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo stepped down from the post under political pressure over allegations that he received illegal political funds from a deceased businessman.
Park's decision to tap Hwang, a former veteran prosecutor, for the nation's No. 2 post appeared to reflect her desire to end the political vacuum caused by the escalating scandal and to seek fresh momentum for her reform drive.
"Hwang has a deep understanding of the president's philosophy on state management, and is the right man to build a new Republic of Korea by eradicating corruptive practices and achieving political reform," said Senior Press Secretary Kim Sung-woo.
"Now we need to root out corruption and irregularities that have been tolerated from the past in order to revive the economy and achieve sustainable development."
Shortly after the announcement, Hwang vowed to propel social integration and embrace vulnerable members of society.
"I will do my best to uphold the people's wishes, with an understanding that taking care of the socially weak is also a crucial national task while achieving people's harmony and social integration," the nominee said at a press conference.
The nomination of a prime minister requires parliamentary endorsement. Hwang is expected to go through a tough confirmation session within two weeks with the opposition party already resisting Park's nomination.
Born in 1957, Hwang spent more than 30 years serving as a public prosecutor. He has held key posts within the prosecution throughout his career and has served as the justice minister since the Park administration began in early 2013.
Though he was approved by the parliament to take the justice minister's post two years ago, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy is also expected to take issue with his expertise in public security.
"President Park Geun-hye naming minister Hwang is an overt declaration that she would reign over the country with a public security-focused (government)," NPAD senior spokesman Rep. Kim Yung-rok.
The opposition lawmaker claimed that Hwang's past career went against the efforts of democratization by curbing opposition forces, and that he was not fit to be prime minister, a role that must bring the people together and revive the economy.
The staunch constitutionalist, who has been advocating a need for early education of the Constitution, is well known for his public security-focused career at the prosecution.
While serving as the justice minister, Hwang spearheaded the arrest of former leftist lawmaker Lee Seok-ki and the dissolution of his party for supporting the North Korean regime. He, as justice minister, was also in the position of handling the ongoing prosecution's investigation into the eight politicians involved in the Sung Won-jong scandal.
Hwang is also likely to face questions over allegations that he received preferential treatment in courts and also a large income while working as a senior attorney upon finishing his service as civil prosecutor.
Park's press secretary also said that the president would pick a new justice minister to replace Hwang as soon as he gets the parliamentary approval.
"The nomination of justice minister will proceed through the necessary legal and political procedures, and it won't be delayed," he said, adding that the procedures would begin only after the P.M. nominee was able to officially take the post.