[Editing] P.M. nominee apologizes for concerns, denies accusations

ORIGINAL

Prime Minister nominee Lee Wan-koo apologized for causing concerns but denied allegations made against him by opposition lawmakers on Tuesday, as his two-day confirmation hearing began.

Rep. Lee, the former floor leader of the governing Saenuri Party, was nominated by President Park Geun-hye to the Prime Minister’s Office late last month. But accusations that Lee had profited from real estate deals and blackmailed reporters have endangered his appointment.

Lee will have to convince legislators that he deserves the government’s No. 2 job by Thursday, when a plenary vote will decide the politician’s fate. Lee’s failure to secure a majority vote will likely put President Park’s proposed economic reform bills and Cabinet reshuffle in limbo.

Lee initially received bipartisan support when he was picked to serve as prime minister on Jan. 23. The third-term lawmaker’s reputation as a moderate compromiser and deal broker had won the political trust of some senior main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy legislators.

But reports that the appointee had made successful investments in Gyeonggi Province and a luxury apartment in Seoul’s posh Gangnam District in the early 2000s raised eyebrows. Lee was also accused of helping his son dodge the country’s mandatory military draft in 2006.

Last week, a leaked recording of the lawmaker surfaced, showing him making threatening comments to journalists writing critical stories about him. Lee can be heard saying he “knows people” in the media, and that he could “get certain (reporters) fired.”

Lee apologized during Tuesday’s hearing, bowing his head in front of flashing news cameras.

NPAD lawmakers also alleged that Lee had dodged the draft by pretending to have flat feet.

If the National Assembly votes against Lee, Park’s prospective Cabinet shake-up could be delayed or canceled altogether as her “welfare without taxation” policy continues to take fire from critics, including members of her own party.

Park’s tax policies have been dismissed by critics as unrealistic. Lawmakers have consistently mentioned lower-than-expected tax revenues. On Tuesday, the Finance Ministry announced that the government had collected 10.9 trillion won ($10 billion) less than expected in tax revenues last year.

A dozen bills aiming to boost economic output will likely remain pending if Lee’s nomination is stonewalled and exacerbates partisan strife. The bills include one designed to stimulate crowd-funding, and one legalizing construction of tourist attractions such as casinos near public schools.

Analysts say that the Park administration badly needs Lee’s political acumen as her public ratings have fallen to new lows, including polls that suggest less than 30 percent of the public approve of her performance.

But the mood at the parliamentary chamber in western Seoul on Tuesday appeared to hint that Lee would receive a majority vote.

Saenuri lawmakers at the hearing offered covering fire for Lee. Saenuri Rep. Lee Jang-woo even read aloud the list of donations made by Lee since the 1990s.

The Saenuri Party holds a parliamentary majority, so his confirmation is assured as long as the party presents a unified vote in his favor at the plenary session on Thursday.

FINAL

Prime Minister nominee Lee Wan-koo apologized on Tuesday for causing concerns but denied opposition lawmakers’ allegations that he profited from real estate deals and blackmailed reporters, as his two-day confirmation hearing began.

Rep. Lee, the former floor leader of the governing Saenuri Party, was nominated by President Park Geun-hye late last month, but the accusations against him have endangered his appointment.

Lee will have to convince legislators that he deserves the government’s No. 2 job by Thursday, when a plenary vote will decide the politician’s fate. Lee’s failure to secure a majority vote will likely put President Park’s proposed economic reform bills and Cabinet reshuffle in limbo.

Lee initially received bipartisan support when he was picked to serve as prime minister on Jan. 23. The third-term lawmaker’s reputation as a moderate compromiser and deal broker had won the political trust of some senior main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy legislators.

But reports that the appointee had made successful investments in Gyeonggi Province and a luxury apartment in Seoul’s posh Gangnam district in the early 2000s raised eyebrows. Lee was also accused of helping his son dodge the country’s mandatory military draft in 2006 and of having evaded service himself by pretending to have flat feet.

Last week, a leaked recording of the lawmaker surfaced, showing him making threatening comments to journalists writing critical stories about him. Lee can be heard saying he “knows people” in the media, and that he could “get certain (reporters) fired.”

Lee apologized during Tuesday’s hearing, bowing his head in front of flashing news cameras.

If the National Assembly votes against Lee, Park’s prospective Cabinet shake-up could be delayed or canceled altogether as her “welfare without taxation” policy continues to take fire from critics, including members of her own party.

Park’s tax policies have been dismissed by critics as unrealistic. Lawmakers have consistently mentioned lower-than-expected tax revenues. On Tuesday, the Finance Ministry announced that the government had collected 10.9 trillion won ($10 billion) less than expected in tax revenues last year.

A dozen bills aiming to boost economic output will likely remain pending if Lee’s nomination is stonewalled and exacerbates partisan strife. The bills include one designed to stimulate crowd-funding, and one legalizing construction of tourist attractions such as casinos near public schools.

Analysts say that the Park administration badly needs Lee’s political acumen as her public ratings have fallen to new lows, including polls that suggest less than 30 percent of the public approve of her performance.

But the mood at the parliamentary chamber in western Seoul on Tuesday appeared to hint that Lee would receive a majority vote.

Saenuri lawmakers at the hearing offered covering fire for Lee. Saenuri Rep. Lee Jang-woo even read aloud the list of donations made by Lee since the 1990s.

The Saenuri Party holds a parliamentary majority, so his confirmation is assured as long as the party presents a unified vote in his favor at the plenary session on Thursday.

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