The most urgent task President Park Geun-hye will address upon returning home Monday from her 12-day trip to South America is choosing the replacement for Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, who offered to resign a week ago amid a deepening graft scandal.
She may well be more cautious and considerate than ever in picking her sixth prime ministerial nominee in about two years. Three of the five nominated for the No. 2 post in the administration since Park took office in early 2013 withdrew their names even before going through parliamentary hearings in the face of allegations of ethical lapses. Lee was also criticized for a range of wrongdoings throughout his hearing before winning parliamentary confirmation in a razor-thin vote by lawmakers last February. But an allegation by a construction company owner who died in an apparent suicide early this month that he had given Lee illicit funds led to a disgraced fall.
This time, Park will have to review a wider pool of potential candidates to choose a competent and morally impeccable figure who can help the president overcome her current predicament and achieve her key policy agenda over the remainder of her five-year tenure.
Ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung last week proposed Park would nominate a figure from the southwestern Jeolla region as Lee’s successor. Kim made the unexpected proposal while campaigning for a Saenuri contender running in a parliamentary by-election in the region, a stronghold of the liberal opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy. In a meeting with reporters later, Kim said he meant what he said, refuting the possible criticism that he had just made a gesture aimed at drawing support from Jeolla voters.
The ruling party leader may have hoped his proposal would be seen as reflecting his will to ease regional antagonism and promote national conciliation. But few people seem to have acknowledged the faithfulness of his remark. Above all, Kim would not even attempt to reiterate his proposal in provinces other than Jeolla.
If anything, Kim’s request has only fanned provincial rivalry, with some netizens from the Jeolla region and the southeastern Gyeongsang area exchanging accusations against each other after it touched off their mutual antipathy.
The post of prime minister is anything but what can be used to draw support from voters in a certain region. Kim should correct his ill-conceived proposal with a promise to ask Park again to choose the best prime ministerial candidate based on ability and moral integrity.