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Park withdraws disputed PM nomination

President gives in to opposition’s calls for new PM, more powerful Cabinet

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 8, 2016 - 17:12

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President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday requested the legislature recommend a new prime minister candidate, giving in to the opposition’s resistance to her earlier appointment of Kim Byong-joon.

She also indicated consenting to a prime minister taking charge of most domestic state affairs -- a direction that could reduce her power as state chief.

“I have come to meet with Speaker (Chung) today as I believe it is my greatest obligation to normalize state affairs,” Park said in a rare meeting with legislative chief Chung Sye-kyun.
President Park Geun-hye talks with National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun on Tuesday. (Yonhap) President Park Geun-hye talks with National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
“Should the National Assembly recommend a suitable candidate through interparty agreement, I will name that person as prime minister to practically control the Cabinet.”

Park’s move to hand over the nominating right to the legislature was largely taken as consenting to the idea of a “neutral Cabinet.”

Earlier proposed by both the ruling and opposition parties, expanding the role of the Cabinet is considered a countermeasure to the current political deadlock, as well as an alternative to the disgraced president’s resignation.

The president’s surprise visit came two weeks after she suggested a constitutional revision in a regular parliamentary address -- an issue soon overshadowed by reports of the extensive corruption scandal involving the president’s confidante Choi Soon-sil.

This was also the first time the president showed up at the legislature with no preset agenda, which seemed to reflect Park’s sense of crisis over public antipathy toward her administration.

Park was accompanied by her new Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok and political adviser Hur Won-je, who had visited the parliament the previous day to mediate between the president and opposition parties.

“I believe that the president has made a difficult decision (to visit the Assembly),” Speaker Chung said.

“I hope that (Park) embraces the public sentiment, which was shown in the candlelight rallies over the weekend, and uses the current crisis as a stepping stone for improvement.”

But in spite of the progress made on the prime minister issue, the 13-minute meeting largely fell short of the Blue House’s original intention.

“We are currently asking for cooperation from the opposition, so as to make a breakthrough in the current situation,” presidential spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk told reporters earlier in the morning.

Jung’s explanation followed a Facebook post by Rep. Park Jie-won, floor leader and interim chief of the second-biggest opposition People’s Party.

“According to a notice from the speaker’s office, the president is coming to visit the Assembly at 10:30 a.m. today. I am not going,” the fourth-term lawmaker wrote.

The senior opposition lawmaker’s remark reflected the political strife over the president’s prime ministerial nomination of Kim Byong-joon, a former chief policymaker for the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun.

Though Kim was considered a likely figure, embraced by both the ruling and opposition camp, his surprise designation came under fire for lacking prior consultation with political parties.

It was also taken as a sign that the president would neither accept a reinforcement of prime ministerial power nor heed public calls for her resignation.

Standing by their earlier position, the three opposition parties -- the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, the People’s Party and the progressive minority Justice Party -- staged a protest upon Park‘s arrival.

Their consensus was that the president’s visit to the Assembly in spite of the obvious conflict was just a political show.

“The president did not mention a single word on renouncing her power, which is the most crucial issue at hand,” said Democratic Party spokesperson Rep. Park Kyung-mee.

People’s Party chief spokesperson Rep. Son Kum-ju even suspected the president had deliberately made an unheralded visit so as to make it look like the opposition was cutting off communication.

The more outspoken Justice Party stepped up its calls for the president’s resignation.

“The only way to express apologies to the people and to restore state affairs is for the president to step down,” said the party’s spokesperson Rep. Chu Hye-seon.

The ruling Saenuri Party -- especially its President Park supporter Chairman Rep. Lee Jung-hyun -- was alone in giving a positive appraisal of the president’s move.

“The president has understood and responded to the opposition’s call for a neutral Cabinet,” Lee told reporters.

“Also, her visit implies a strong determination to break through the current political deadlock by all means.”

Some of the party’s nonmainstream members also claimed the president‘s decision, though not fully sufficient to the public’s eye, was a significant gesture.

“The president admitted the fault in the process of prime minister nomination and provided a clue in solving the current circumstances,” said Rep. Yoo Seong-min through a press release.

“It is now time for rival parties to work together in discussing the range of prime ministerial power and the incoming Cabinet, as well as the independent counsel (to probe the Choi scandal).“

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)