S. Korean minister faces censure

SEOUL, South Korea, AP

South Korea’s opposition party proposed a no-confidence vote on Justice Minister Kim Jung-kil on Friday, accusing him of orchestrating a prosecution probe into a military draft scandal involving the opposition presidential candidate.

The opposition Grand National Party controls 139 seats, three more than a simple majority to pass the no-confidence bill through the 272-member, single-house National Assembly.

The Assembly must vote on the bill within three days of its official presentation to the floor scheduled for Wednesday. Otherwise, the bill will be automatically scrapped.

The pro-government Millennium Democratic Party, which holds 113 seats, vowed to block the voting, considering the bill a “dangerous and irresponsible political scheme aimed at incapacitating the government,” said spokesman Lee Nak-yon.

State prosecutors are investigating allegations that a son of Lee Hoi-chang, the Grand National Party’s candidate for the presidential election on Dec. 19, illegally dodged mandatory military service.

Supporters of Kim Dae-jung first raised the controversy during the 1997 presidential election, bruising Lee’s reputation. Lee, who was the ruling party candidate at the time, denied any illegality but lost the election to Kim by a slim margin.

President Kim, by law, cannot seek re-election in December. Lee is running again and leading opinion polls.

Lee’s party says the government launched a probe into the allegation to hurt Lee’s chances in December. It says the Justice Ministry’s major reshuffle of prosecutors this week was aimed at placing pro-government prosecutors in posts investigating the draft-dodging probe.

Both the ministry and the presidential Blue House rejected the allegation.

“This is an absurd political offensive,” said presidential spokeswoman Park Sun-sook.

South Koreans see draft-dodging as unpatriotic. All eligible men must serve 26 months in the military, the linchpin of South Korea’s defense against North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War.

During Kim Dae-jung’s time in office, the opposition has proposed no-confidence votes on 12 Cabinet members, but only one of the bills was approved by the Assembly.