|Chin Young (Yonhap News)|
President Park Geun-hye on Monday accepted Health Minister Chin Young’s resignation over the pension controversy after a week of back-and-forth that left a sizable dent in her leadership and policy drive.
Earlier in the day Prime Minister Chung Hong-won expressed deep regret about his “irresponsible” departure.
“Offering to resign in such a manner right before the crucial time of the National Assembly’s regular session and the government audit is running away from responsibility as a Cabinet member,” Chung said in a press release.
Chung explained that Chin was no longer deemed suitable to carry out his duties and added that he should not have accepted the position in the first place if he opposed one of Park’s key pledges.
Chin becomes the first member of Park’s Cabinet to quit. The ministry will be run by the vice minister for the time being.
The resignation of Park’s once-entrusted aide was seen to deal a blow to Park’ leadership and add to her uncommunicative image, while sparking speculation of a Cabinet reshuffle.
Three ministerial-level seats are now vacant following the resignation of Yang Kun last month as chief auditor and Chae Dong-wook this month as chief prosecutor. Both resignations entailed claims of alleged pressure from the presidential office over their line of duty.
The rare and highly public exchange between Cheong Wa Dae and Chin over his resignation also exposed questions over the roles of Park’s chief presidential secretaries and the ministers.
“The debacle is a result of Park relying on Cheong Wa Dae aides after having promised to bestow more responsibility to the ministers,” politics professor Shin Yul of Myongji University said.
“The so-called Chin incident will reoccur should Cheong Wa Dae make all the decisions and leave it for ministers to implement them and take responsibility.”
Earlier in the day, Park indirectly criticized Chin for insisting on quitting over the pension plan controversy.
“Problems cannot be solved by running away from criticism,” Park said during a senior secretarial meeting.
“The government, the Cabinet members and the senior secretaries must tend to their roles with responsibility and a sense of duty in planning policies on behalf of the public.”
Park again championed her plan to connect the national pension system with the new basic pension scheme, citing efficiency and urged her government members to “move busily” to persuade the National Assembly and the people.
Chin tendered his resignation on Sept. 27, despite persuasion from Chung, and a day after the release of Park’s 2014 budget that included the controversially curtailed basic pension plan.
Chin said he was stepping down due to a failed attempt to get his view or conviction across with Cheong Wa Dae, particularly over linking the national pension with the new basic pension scheme.
“I have opposed connecting the basic pension with the national pension, and I still stand behind it. I have relayed such views to Cheong Wa Dae several times,” Chin said on Sunday.
The curtailed basic pension plan promises to dole out between 100,000 and 200,000 won to the poorest 70 percent of seniors aged 65 and older, and according to how much time and money they have invested in the national pension.
Cheong Wa Dae, meanwhile, brushed off growing speculation that the administration’s first major Cabinet reshuffle would come soon.
“At this stage, what I can tell you for certain is that there will be no Cabinet reshuffle,” Park’s senior public affairs secretary told reporters,
Other potential seats to change include Security and Public Administration Minister Yoo Jeong-bok who is likely running in next year’s local elections, according to the rumor mill. Park has also reportedly expressed dissatisfaction toward her economic team for a lack of tangible accomplishments in her creative economy drive.
Park has previously had personnel problems, with critics questioning the ability of her choices.
At least 14 choices for high posts, including the prime minister, were dropped at the beginning of the administration due to debate over qualifications or voluntary withdrawal.
The rival political parties, meanwhile, bickered over the Chin situation.
The ruling Saenuri Party attacked Chin for his “inappropriate conduct.”
“A minister has the duty to implement government policies that are approved at the Cabinet meeting. The minister, furthermore, must faithfully speak the government’s position before the people when a pending issue must be discussed immediately,” said Saenuri chairman Hwang Woo-yea.
“If there was a decision made by the president, it would have been more correct for the minister who assists the president to resign after the fact if he opposed such a decision, lost passion or lacked confidence in fulfilling his duty,” he added.
The main opposition Democratic Party, on the other hand, condemned the administration.
“President Park must set out to perform an extensive personnel change before it is too late,” said main opposition Democratic Party floor leader Jun Byung-hun during a party meeting.
“Those who need to apologize for breaking the pension promise are instead engaged in family trouble... If Park fails to address the personnel debacle this will go beyond overall administration disorder and become administrative failure.”
By Lee Joo-hee