Rep. Lee Hahn-koo, the floor leader of the ruling
Saenuri Party is shown next to President-elect
Park Geun-hye at a meeting.
Rep. Lee Hahn-koo, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, is being touted as one of the candidates most likely selected to be the deputy prime minister as well as the minister of Strategy and Finance in the new Park Geun-hye government to be installed on Feb. 25.
He is being counted on as one of the most likely candidates for the newly created position with vast power over the economic related ministries such as the Trade and Commerce, Labor, and others. It is seen as a crucially important position for the incoming administration facing the need to refuel the economy and create jobs, and most importantly squeeze out the funds needed to meet the campaign pledges that the president-elect made in the area of welfare during the hard-fought presidential election campaign.
Rep. Lee Hahn-koo.
The four-term legislator from Daegu is known for his unyielding insistence on the issues that he believes to be right that come from his insights on wide-ranging issues, which won trust of many of his colleagues and even president-elect Park Geun-hye herself when she was a legislator.
For instance, the floor leader argued that with the state of the economy where it has been, it is nearly impossible to democratize the economy nor create jobs unless the global slowdown recovers, uplifting the Korean economy in the process. In the end, the legislator’s assertion was proven to be right, which is why he is being touted as one of the most possible candidates for the key ministerial position at the moment, regarded as having a profound knowledge of not only the real economy, but also on macro-economic issues.
Most importantly, President-elect Park has great trust in the legislator. Rep Lee was a public accountant following his graduation from the prestigious Seoul National University as an economics major before entering the public service after passing the 7th high-level public servant examination in 1969.
The legislator then entered the Ministry of Finance and rose to the position of the director of the Finance Division.
Lee was forced to quit the ministry after working there for around 10 years when President Chun Doo-hwan took over the government in 1980. His departure from the government was not entirely unrelated with Kim Jong-in, who often got into tit-for-tat battles with Lee over important issues during the presidential election. Kim was a member of the Financial Subcommittee of the National Security Emergency Measure Committee under President Chun and put Lee on the list of public servants to be axed by the new government. One of the reasons for his ouster was that he rose too fast through the ranks in the Finance Ministry, disturbing the ministry’s personnel discipline, which shows the reason for the animosity between Lee and Kim during the presidential election over many issues, most notably economic democratization.
Because those kicked out of the government could not get jobs with even private firms for two years, Lee left for the United States and enrolled in the University of Kansas to pursue his doctorate degree in economics. While in the U.S., he met Chairman Kim Woo-joong of the then Daewoo Group. When he returned to Korea he was hired as director in the chairman’s office of the conglomerate and later promoted to head the Daewoo Research Institute as president.
He became a proportional representative legislator in the ruling Grand National Party led by the then chairman Lee Hoi-chang in 2000. The chairman wanted a fresh, professional economist for the party and saw Lee as the right person.
The four-term legislator has executed his due responsibility as a parliamentarian, focusing mainly on economic issues as the chief policymaker for the party and vice chairman of the National Assembly’s Economic Committee. In recognition of his outstanding service as a legislator, he was named the floor leader for the ruling party in May last year.
Among the many hats he has worn in parliament, he was chairman of the Committee for Creation of Jobs in the 17th National Assembly and the chairman of the Budget Settlement Committee during the 19th National Assembly.
While on the Strategy and Finance Committee, his hard work in government auditing won him the honor of being named as the most outstanding legislator by all civil organizations including conservative, progressive, and middle-of-the-roaders.
Lee’s sharp questions on government policies earned him the complaints of government officials claiming Lee was too harsh on them, even though he was a member of their party. He won various nicknames such as “Mr. Right Voice” and “The Sharp Shooter” on economic matters during parliamentary government auditing.
Lee became closer to President-elect Park during the 17th National Assembly when the President-elect was named chairman of the now defunct Grand National Party in 2004, which was in disarray following the party’s failure to oust the then President Roh Moo-hyun through an impeachment.
The then-chairman Park named Lee as the chief policymaker of the party as she heard from others about Lee’s hard work as a legislator and was impressed by his credentials as an economist and on financial matters.
The two got along very well, especially during the party’s struggle to fight against the then-ruling Democratic Party’s moves to suspend the National Security Law and three other key laws they designated as “bad” laws. The Grand National Party won its campaign against the ruling party’s efforts to change them.
Lee won Park’s respect during the 60-day long fight against the ruling party’s campaign and the fact that they are both from districts in Daegu played a key role in bringing the two closer.
The relationship between the two was further solidified in 2010 when they were members of the Strategy and Finance Committee. Park sought advice from Lee on economic and financial matters often. Lee won the nickname of “Mr. Tutor” for Chairman Park.
When Park set up the National Future Research Institute in 2010, Lee joined it as a founding member in charge of treasury and welfare areas.
Lee is also credited to have played a key role in picking pledges that President-elect Park made during the election campaign in such important areas as welfare policies. Park, in the early part of the campaign, called for strong welfare and democratization of the economy, but later steered toward stressing policies for strong economic growth to back up welfare programs and economic democratization, taking advice from Lee. Park stressed that the underground economy should be made part of the national economy to provide resources for welfare programs, taking a page or two from what Lee had been calling for in the past.
The floor leader told reporters following Park’s election victory that he will see that the new government will turn most of the underground economy into part of the national economy, as it is an election pledge of the President-elect.