Culture Minister-designate Chung Sung-keun withdrew his nomination on Wednesday, despite President Park Geun-hye taking the political risk of pushing ahead with his appointment.
The former TV anchor has been facing fierce resistance from the main opposition party over his record of drunken driving and alleged perjury during his parliamentary confirmation hearing last week.
“Today, I step down from my position as minister nominee for culture, sports and tourism,” Chung said in a statement. “There are things (that remain) unexplained, but I believe that it is my duty to leave,” he said.
|Chung Sung-keun (Yonhap)|
Chung’s announcement came as a surprise as President Park was seen as pressing ahead with his appointment amid mounting criticism for doing so.
The president on Tuesday once again asked the National Assembly to endorse her appointment of Chung and Chong Jong-sup, another Cabinet member who failed to receive confirmation. In turn, she withdrew her nomination of embattled Education Minister-designate Kim Myung-soo and named Rep. Hwang Woo-yea, former chairman of the ruling Saenuri Party, as his replacement.
By law, the president can ask the National Assembly to confirm her appointment again if the confirmation report is not approved 20 days after it was submitted to the parliament. From that moment on the president can go ahead and confirm the nominee to the post regardless of the Assembly’s decision.
Park on Tuesday afternoon appointed a new spy chief and four ministers, according to presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook. Shortly after Chung’s withdrawal on Wednesday, the president also approved the appointment of Chong.
But Chung’s withdrawal is likely to delay the launch of the new Cabinet. Park vowed to launch her new Cabinet within this week. But she still needs to look for a new culture minister nominee. Her new Education Minister-designate Hwang also has to go through a confirmation hearing.
It remains unclear why Chung suddenly withdrew from the nomination, though it seems he felt overly burdened by the worsening public sentiment and intensifying opposition from political parties.
The ruling Saenuri Party had reportedly asked Cheong Wa Dae to let Chung go, out of concern that the appointment would spark further public criticism ahead of the July 30 by-election.
Rep. Lee Jae-oh of the Saenuri Party blasted Park for keeping Chung’s nomination, saying this went against public sentiment.
“If the majority of the people say no, then (it) shouldn’t (be gone ahead with),” said Rep. Lee in a meeting.
Chung’s withdrawal was widely expected to deal a blow to Park, as it once again raised questions about Cheong Wa Dae’s personnel choices.
The president attempted to tighten her grip by carrying out an extensive Cabinet shakeup. But her approval ratings fell further, approaching 40 percent, over her repeated nomination debacles.
Since May, two of her prime minister-designates voluntarily withdrew their nominations in the face of public criticism and political opposition. Instead, Park retained incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won who had offered to resign, holding himself responsible for the Sewol disaster.
She also replaced eight ministers last month. But three of the eight nominees, including Chung, failed to get parliamentary endorsement over ethical lapses and other wrongdoings.
The previous Education Minister-designate Kim had come under fire for a series of allegations including plagiarism while Public Administration Minister-designate Chong had been accused of making speculative real estate investments.
On Chung’s withdrawal, the main opposition New Alliance Politics for Democracy said it was a “delayed” but “natural” decision. “The withdrawal of nominee Chung was inevitable,” said NPAD spokeswoman Rep. Han Jeoung-ae.
“We hope to have a new nominee who can meet the public demands for public servants,” she said.
During a rare meeting last week, the opposition party’s floor leader Rep. Park Young-sun requested for the president to withdraw the nominations. Park had said she would “consider.”
By Cho Chung-un (email@example.com