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Ruling party lawmaker nominated as new justice minister

Choo Mi-ae, a five-term ruling party lawmaker, has been nominated for the position of justice minister, Cheong Wa Dae announced Thursday amid keen attention to her role in the South Korean government's push for prosecution reform.

President Moon Jae-in picked Choo to fill the post that has been vacant for several weeks since Cho Kuk stepped down in the face of state prosecutors' probe into alleged irregularities involving his family.

Cheong Wa Dae noted that Choo has expertise and qualities of statesmanship developed in her long career as a judge-turned-politician.

She is "expected to complete judicial reform and contribute greatly to the establishment of the rule of law based on fairness and justice," Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung said in a statement.

Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung (Yonhap)
Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung (Yonhap)

Choo also vowed to do her best for "judicial and prosecution reform," describing it as a "call of the age."

Speaking to reporters, she construed Moon's nomination of her as a "proposal" to work together to meet the demand and aspiration of the people in that regard.

The nominee is required to go through the National Assembly's confirmation hearing, the date of which has yet to be set.

Choo led the Democratic Party from 2016 till 2018.

Nicknamed Choo d'Arc after Joan of Arc, she's known for her determination to get things done.

For Moon, the choice of Choo is viewed as a card to counter the prosecution's thinly veiled pressure on Cheong Wa Dae with intensive probes into high-profile corruption suspicions, involving longtime confidants to the president, under the leadership of Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl.

While Moon can press ahead with the appointment of a minister without formal approval from the parliament, the nomination of a sitting lawmaker has traditionally caused relatively less political trouble.

If Choo is appointed, it will raise the number of female ministers to six, or 33.3 percent of the total.

On the campaign trail, Moon said he would install women in at least 30 percent of Cabinet positions.

After studying law at Hanyang University in Seoul, she passed the national judicial exam in 1982.

Choo served as a judge at district courts in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, Incheon and Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, as well as Gwangju High Court from 1985 to 1995. She became a lawmaker in 1996.

(Cheong Wa Dae)
(Cheong Wa Dae)

Moon has sought strong measures to reform the prosecution, which critics say has excessive power and authority. It's one of the president's key campaign pledges.

He tapped Cho, a law professor and close aide to him, as justice minister in a Aug. 9 Cabinet shake-up and appointed him a month later despite huge criticism, saying he's the right person to complete prosecution reform. Massive street rallies were held in Seoul for and against Cho.

Cho eventually resigned Oct. 14, with his wife indicted, and he's now facing an investigation himself. Concern has grown about the future of Moon's prosecution reform drive.

Meanwhile, Cheong Wa Dae stopped short of announcing a replacement to Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon.

Media-driven speculation is rampant that Lee will quit the job before the end of this year as he is apparently hoping to help the ruling party in the April 15 general elections next year.

Some news outlets cited Kim Jin-pyo, another ruling party lawmaker, as a strong candidate to succeed Lee. The four-term lawmaker worked as finance minister and deputy minister for two years beginning in 2003. Some liberal-minded people, however, are said to be taking a dim view of Kim due to his support for a few economic policies favored by conservatives.(Yonhap)