Who is he?
Chung Hong-won is the new prime minister of the Republic of Korea under the Park Geun-hye administration. Born in Hadong, South Gyeongsang province, he majored in law at Sungkyunkwan University and passed the national bar exam in 1972. Chung had a thirty-year career as a state prosecutor, which culminated with his leadership of the Busan District Prosecutors Office from 2002-2003.
Chung’s experience in government includes an appointment as a standing member of the National Election Commission (a minister-level post) from 2004 to 2006. He was the chief of the Korea Legal Aid Corporation before being appointed by Park in January 2012 as the chairperson of the party’s candidate nomination committee for the April 2012 general elections.
Why has he been in the news?
On February 8 Chung was nominated by President-elect Park to be prime minister. He was carefully vetted as Park’s second nominee for the job and approved after a three-day confirmation hearing on February 26 with 197 of the 272 votes cast at the National Assembly’s plenary session.
Chung recently visited Yeonpyeong Island, site of the 2010 shelling by North Korea, on March 14 and called for the military to be on “high alert” for any further provocation amidst heightened tensions.
What can we expect from him?
Chung has big shoes to fill coming into office as his predecessor – Kim Hwang-sik – was not only the longest-serving prime minister since the office’s introduction in 1987, he was also widely recognized for his leadership and concern for the Korean people’s welfare. However, Chung comes in well-prepared to take on those expectations with three big credentials on his side.
First, he has a reputation for handling special investigations as a prosecutor, which suggests a knack for tackling complicated issues. Second, Chung’s leadership of the “Manifesto Movement”, displayed his administrative capabilities. Third, his success in helping the Saenuri Party win the April 2012 general elections by reforming the selection process for parliamentary candidates revealed a talent for understanding the electorate’s needs.
The biggest challenge for Chung, a self-professed “ordinary man,” may be handling his newly-empowered role. President Park’s key campaign pledge to avoid the “imperial presidency” that has dominated Korean politics – in which the prime minister will “finally” have the authority and responsibilities accorded to him in the constitution – will shape Chung’s time in office.