To be faithful to his duties, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won should have announced his intention to resign after the response to the deadly sinking of a ferry almost two weeks ago was wrapped up.
No one believes he can be absolved of responsibility for the dismal handling of the tragic accident that has left more than 300 people, most of whom were high school students on a school trip, dead or missing. But he was surely aware that stepping down so soon would be of no help in facilitating the rescue operations and supporting the victims’ families.
This may be why President Park Geun-hye decided to accept his resignation offer, which was made on Sunday, but let him keep his post until the ferry disaster has been brought under control. It will still be awkward for a prime minister who has made his resignation public to continue to oversee the handling of an accident.
To be fair, Chung might have been pushed to make the move by ruling party officials worried that, given the mounting resentment about the government’s poor response to the maritime disaster, they could be trounced in the June 4 local elections. The conditional acceptance of his resignation also seems to indicate that President Park feels an urgent need to placate the public. It is likely that she will designate Chung’s successor before the election date, pledging to take steps afterward to overhaul her Cabinet and establish an effective system for preventing and managing disasters and emergencies.
Chung appeared to be alluding to these concerns among the ruling bloc when he told reporters that although the main priority should be managing the situation, he decided to step down “as it is not desirable for me to become a burden to the administration by staying in this post.” His announcement came less than an hour before coleaders of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy held a news conference in which they denounced his resignation offer as “utterly irresponsible and cowardly” and called for Park to apologize for the ferry disaster.
All incumbent Cabinet members must perform their duties faithfully and thoroughly until their last day in office, regardless of the likely reshuffle of the ministerial lineup. President Park should ultimately set her sights on the drastic reform of a bureaucracy that has been steeped in inertia and negligence, quick only to pass the buck to others.