President Park Geun-hye on Thursday said she would retain incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, after a series of nomination debacles that dealt a heavy blow to her leadership.
“President Park has turned down Prime Minister Chung Hong-won’s offer to resign and asked him to continue to serve as Prime Minister,” said senior press secretary Yoon Doo-hyun.
Chung offered to resign in late April, holding himself responsible for the ferry disaster that killed some 300 people. Park accepted his resignation, but asked him to stay in office until the crisis was resolved.
This is the first time in the country’s modern history that a president has retained a prime minister who offered to resign.
The announcement came two days after Moon Chang-keuk, the former nominee for prime minister, withdrew his nomination over mounting criticism of controversial past remarks. Moon was Park’s second choice.
Before Moon, Ahn Dae-hee, a former prosecutor, also dropped his nomination last month amid allegations that he received improper favors from his prosecutorial network. The two did not even make it to the confirmation hearing at the National Assembly.
Repeated nomination failures left a vacuum in Park’s state reform drive. Her approval ratings fell to their lowest level last week since she took office in February last year.
Last month, Park attempted to placate public criticism by announcing a series of reform measures to eradicate wrongdoings in public office and improve safety standards. She wanted a new prime minister to lead her reform drive.
President Park Geun-hye enters a conference hall at Cheong Wa Dae to attend a Cabinet meeting on March 4 with Prime Minister Chung Hong-won (left) and Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon (right). (Yonhap)
Park’s decision to keep Chung in the nation’s No. 2 post came “after much consideration” and with the aim of preventing further delays in her state management aimed at uniting the divided nation in the aftermath of the ferry tragedy.
“President Park promised the people she would carry out state reform and launch a (new) safety system after the Sewol accident. There are urgent state tasks left to push for (in the reform drive),” said Yoon.
“But many problems exposed in the (run-up to) the confirmation hearing have caused a vacuum in state management and split public opinion. The president decided to retain Prime Minister Chung after much consideration so as to not leave the situation as it is.”
Cheong Wa Dae also said a new office will be launched to improve its verification process and to establish a pool of talented candidates throughout the country.
Park has come under pressure to overhaul the current vetting process, which suffers from limited pool of candidates and a lack of recommendations outside of the presidential inner circle.
After two failed nomination attempts for a new prime minister, the president asked Chung to continue his job. He declined at first, but accepted the president’s request late Wednesday evening.
“I had declined the offer, but decided to take it with renewed determination, on the president’s earnest request to stop further delays in state management at this critical time,” Chung said at a meeting held shortly after Cheong Wa Dae’s announcement.
“I will exert my efforts for the state reform and will speak directly to the president, if needed,” he said.
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy lashed out at the president’s decision to keep Chung, saying she is backtracking from her reform pledges.
“It made us to doubt whether the Park Geun-hye government is willing to make a fundamental change in the wake of the Sewol disaster,” said the NPAD’s senior spokesman Yoo Ki-hong.
Park’s decision was met with mixed reactions from her party.
Rep. Lee Wan-koo, floor leader of the Saenuri Party, told reporters that he understands her decision, adding that the process could take more than a month if she came up with a new figure.
“It is understandable because (the government) should not have paralysis in administration,” he said.
Some lawmakers, however, declined to make specific comments, but said the decision was “surprising” and “inappropriate.”
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)