Park’s Prime Minister Nominee Withdraws Candidacy in South Korea

South Korea’s prime minister nominee withdrew his candidacy less than a week after being tapped by President Park Geun Hye to lead a planned cabinet reshuffle prompted by repercussions of the deadly ferry sinking last month.

“I apologize to the president who had the faith in me to nominate me as prime minister,” former Supreme Court justice Ahn Dai Hee said today at a news conference televised on broadcaster YTN. “I shall now lay everything down to return to being a normal citizen and live quietly.”

Since being nominated on May 22, Ahn has faced allegations by opposition lawmakers that he had used his influence as a former judge to win trials as an attorney, making 1.6 billion won ($1.5 million) in just six months. On May 26, he said he would return 1.1 billion of the income “to society,” while the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, vowed a rigorous confirmation hearing in Parliament.

Ahn today denied the influence peddling allegations and reiterated his pledge to donate the funds to charity.

Ahn was picked to lead the overhaul of the government in the wake of the April 16 ferry sinking that left more than 300 people dead or missing and rattled public confidence in Park’s government. His withdrawal comes a week before South Korea holds metropolitan, provincial and municipal elections, the first electoral test Park faces since taking office 15 months ago.

Approval Rating

Park’s approval rating has suffered over the government’s handling of the ferry accident. Further fatal accidents after the sinking have fanned concerns about public safety. A fire at a nursing home killed 21 people today, days after a deadly blaze at a bus terminal building north of Seoul. Park’s approval rating has fallen to 48 percent in the wake of the Sewol sinking, down from 61 percent before the tragedy, according to the most recent poll by Gallup Korea.

Ahn, a former member of Park’s 2012 election team, was to replace Prime Minister Chung Hong Won, who offered his resignation last month but agreed to remain in power until the government ends its handling of the ferry disaster.

In South Korea the president holds executive power, with the prime minister having limited responsibilities.