All the fuss over the two prime ministerial nominees, who withdrew their names after their credentials were called into question, ended up with President Park Geun-hye retaining the incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won.
Chung offered to resign on April 27 to hold himself responsible for the government’s botched handling of a ferry disaster that took place 10 days earlier. At the time, Park accepted his resignation but asked him to remain in the job until she found his successor. Her two failed attempts to appoint a new prime minister, who she said would take the lead in overhauling the flawed system that resulted in the disaster, embarrassed her, amplifying criticism of her inappropriate choices of personnel.
Her first nominee, a retired Supreme Court justice, was forced to withdraw last month after coming under fire for the large income he earned in private practice after leaving the bench. The second, a conservative seasoned journalist, stepped down Tuesday over his controversial remarks regarding the modern history of Korea.
Aides to Park and ruling party officials say her “agonized” decision to retain the incumbent prime minister was made to resolve the prolonged void in administrative functions. It might not be beyond comprehension that Park felt heavily burdened with yet another nominee battle with the opposition, which took down her previous nominees on the back of mounting antigovernment sentiment in the aftermath of the ferry tragedy.
But this does not appear to justify her decision, which has perplexed most people and caused a backlash from the opposition. The pervasive public view seems to be that the president should have taken more time to find an appropriate figure, broadening the list of candidates to include even those from the opposing camp.
After his resignation was reversed on Thursday, Chung vowed to do his best to “make a safer country, reform officialdom, eradicate corruption and normalize abnormal practices.” It may prove, however, beyond his capabilities to push through such tasks as a prime minister whose time is already seen to be up. Park is also not free of criticism that she reneged on her promise to empower a new prime minister to lead the reform work.
Park’s abandonment of the search for a third nominee seems partly intended to direct public discourse to problems with the current confirmation process, which is preoccupied with finding personal faults rather than evaluating capabilities and merits. There needs to be some improvement in the process but Park is in no position to share the blame with the opposition. She faces a real danger of losing momentum for her key agenda if the increasingly estranged opposition blocks the passage of necessary bills.
Park needs to come forward to give a sincere explanation about her course of action and seek understanding from the public.