Park Keeps Chung on as Premier After Two Nominees Withdraw
South Korean President Park Geun Hye will leave Chung Hong Won as prime minister, reversing her earlier decision to accept his resignation over a deadly ferry sinking, after twice failing to replace him.
Park is keeping Chung in the post after he offered to step down in April, presidential secretary Yoon Doo Hyun said today at a briefing in Seoul. Chung planned to resign after a new premier was appointed, in order to take responsibility for what Park called a botched rescue operation for the April 16 Sewol sinking.
Park nominated two candidates for prime minister, both of whom later withdrew from consideration amid pressure from opposition lawmakers before facing confirmation hearings. On June 13, she went ahead with her first cabinet shakeup as president in a bid to regain public support after the ferry sinking killed more than 300 people, mostly school children.
“There are piles of state tasks to be carried out urgently,” Yoon said of the decision to keep Chung as prime minister. “The risk of a divide in the national opinion and a gap in state affairs is very huge due to many problems exposed in the process for parliamentary hearings” on the prime minister appointment.
Park’s latest nominee withdrew on June 24 after public broadcaster KBS showed footage of him calling Japan’s 35-year-old colonization of Korea God’s will. In another instance, former journalist Moon Chang Keuk said Japan need not apologize to Korean women forced to serve in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. He later apologized and said he was not pro-Japan.
Park’s approval rating dropped to 43 percent, the lowest in 14 months, due to the controversy over the nomination of Moon, Gallup Korea said last week in an e-mailed statement. Her disapproval rating outstripped her approval rating for the first time since she took office in February 2013, it said.
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy today criticized Park in a statement for retracting her decision to let Chung go, and called on her to fire her chief of staff to take responsibility for the failed nominations.
Botched appointments have troubled Park since she won the December 2012 election. She had four cabinet picks withdraw amid graft allegations and two for personal reasons when she was forming a government last year. She also fired her first spokesman after he was accused of groping an intern at South Korea’s embassy in Washington during her U.S. trip last year.
The president holds executive power in South Korea, with the prime minister having limited responsibilities.
Park’s ruling Saenuri party and the NPAD split the results of the June 4 local elections, her first electoral test as president.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Kim in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org