President Park Geun-hye remained mute on Monday afternoon over her nominee for prime minister, despite mounting political pressure to abandon the former journalist who has come under severe public criticism over controversial past remarks.
Many expected that Park would quickly determine the fate of the nominee after her trip to three Central Asian nations on Saturday, as she said she would. But she remained silent for three days after the trip, though the situation reached the boiling point.
Instead, Park requested the parliament’s cooperation on a confirmation hearing and a government reorganization bill during a ceremony held to officially appoint new presidential secretaries. It was not immediately known whether she sought the National Assembly’s cooperation on the confirmation hearing for Moon or other minister-designates. She named new seven ministers before she left for her Central Asian tour last week. Cabinet members are subjected for confirmation hearings, but only the prime minister-nominee requires the parliamentary approval.
Reports quoting multiple sources say that Cheong Wa Dae may have attempted to convince the embattled Moon Chang-keuk to voluntarily withdraw his nomination. Moon, however, was seen to have taken a firm stand.
“I will wait while doing my work,” he told reporters on Monday morning. Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook also sidestepped questions from reporters about Park’s decision and said that “there’s nothing special to say.”
The retired journalist has been under pressure to decline his nomination over controversial comments on sensitive historical issues. In a speech delivered at a church in 2011, Moon said Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and the division of the country was God’s will.
The nominee said in a surprisingly long speech last week that he felt heartbroken after some people alleged that he was pro-Japanese. Moon, presenting columns published years ago, said he respects independence fighters like Ahn Jung-geun, who killed Hirobumi Ito, the first Japanese governor-general, who ruled the Korean Peninsula in 1909. Observers say that Moon is withstanding the attacks because he wants to undergo a parliamentary confirmation hearing to recover his tarnished reputation, even though he knows that he will never become prime minister.
The appointment fiasco dealt another serious blow to Park despite her efforts to overturn angry public sentiment after the Sewol disaster. Moon was Park’s second nominee for the post. The former star prosecutor Ahn Dae-hee dropped his nomination last month after being struck by spiraling allegations that he received favors from his prosecutorial network.
A poll showed on Friday that Park’s approval rating turned negative for the first time since she took office in February last year. According to Gallup Korea, only 43 percent of respondents said Park was doing a good job, a 4 percent drop from the previous week. Meanwhile, the number who disapproved of her performance increased by 5 percent.
Some critics claimed that both Cheong Wa Dae and Moon are aware that the nomination will fail to get parliamentary approval, with not only the main opposition party but also the ruling Saenuri Party turning their backs against Park’s decision. Despite the worsening situation, Park is delaying her decision because she does not want to be seen as admitting that it was her fault to appoint Moon.
“If she calls off the nomination of Moon soon, it will be looked as if the president is acknowledging the appointment fiasco,” said Yang Seung-ham, political science professor at Yonsei University. “They are running out the clock in order to evade direct criticism and wait until Moon is cleared of allegations. And to give the public the impression that Moon was just embroiled in a groundless scandal, but was to withdraw his nomination in accordance with the wishes of the public,” he said.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)