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(5th LD) Park withdraws controversial PM nomination

All Headlines 18:01 November 08, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS paras 2, 4, 7; ADDS more info in paras 14-20; TRIMS)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday effectively jettisoned her prime minister-designate, caving in to mounting calls to withdraw the "unilateral" nomination that aggravated a political deadlock sparked by a corruption scandal involving her confidante.

During a rare visit to National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, Park called on the legislature to recommend a new premier candidate, whom she said will "effectually control" the Cabinet as demanded by opposition parties.

"I came to meet the speaker as it is (my) greatest responsibility to fulfill my obligation as a president and normalize state affairs," she told Chung during their meeting that lasted for only 13 minutes amid a rally by opposition lawmakers clamoring for her resignation.

President Park Geun-hye (L) meets National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun for talks during her visit to the legislature in Seoul on Nov. 8, 2016. (Yonhap)

"If the National Assembly recommends a suitable candidate based on an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties, I will appoint him and let him take control of the Cabinet."

On Wednesday, Park tapped Kim Byong-joon, chief policy adviser to the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, as the new prime minister in a government reshuffle aimed at placating escalating public anger over the political scandal.

The surprise designation came without consulting political parties, drawing the ire of opposition parties, which have demanded that a new premier be picked based on bipartisan agreement.

Virtually withdrawing the premier designation, the presidential office hinted that it would also reconsider the nominations of new finance and public security ministers whom Park picked based on Kim's recommendations.

"After consultations with the parliament, a decision will be made (over the ministerial nominees)," a presidential official told Yonhap News Agency, declining to be named.

In the latest Cabinet shakeup, the president named Yim Jong-yong, head of the Financial Services Commission, as new deputy prime minister for economic affairs, who doubles as finance minister. Park Seung-joo, vice gender equality minister under the Roh administration, was tapped to head the Ministry of Public Safety and Security.

During his talks with Park, the Assembly speaker urged the president to "uphold public opinion" in her efforts to find a way out of the current political crisis.

"The crisis facing the president is a crisis in state governance and a crisis of the nation as a whole, and thus people are very worried," Chung told Park.

"Therefore, what is most important is placating public concerns," he added.

The embattled president, then, urged the legislature to muster up efforts to overcome economic challenges, pointing to sluggish exports and the fallout from the ongoing restructuring of the shipbuilding and shipping industries.

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk said that Prime Minister-designate Kim will continue to keep his status as a designate until the legislature selects a new prime minister candidate.

Kim himself told reporters that his current status will "disappear" only after the ruling and opposition parties pick his replacement, or the president officially retracts her designation of Kim.

Now at issue is how much "control" Park will allow a new prime minister to wield over the management of the Cabinet and state affairs .

During a meeting among Chung and the floor leaders of the ruling and opposition parties later in the day, Chung decided to ask the presidential office to elaborate further on Park's remarks about letting the new premier "run" the Cabinet.

A presidential official said that Park meant to allow a premier to have a wider range of authorities such as recommending the appointment of Cabinet ministers as well as leading state affairs.

The prime minister-designate Kim earlier called on Park to offer him the full authority to lead social and economic affairs, a request the president reportedly accepted.

Even if Park should transfer part of her authority to a new premier, she is expected to retain her constitutional title -- commander-in-chief -- a reason why analysts say she will still seek to maintain control over security and foreign policy issues.

Following Park's visit to the legislature, the main opposition Democratic Party ratcheted up pressure on Park to declare she would retreat from state affairs and offer full authority to a new premier to form a neutral Cabinet.

"The prime minister would have actual authority to run the government when the president pledges to allow the premier to organize the Cabinet, and not to interfere at all (in Cabinet affairs)," Ki Dong-min, a party spokesman, told reporters.

At the center of the scandal is Choi Soon-sil, who has been accused of abusing her longtime friendship with the president to meddle in state affairs and gain financially.

The scandal has sent Park's approval ratings plummeting and left state governance in disarray, with her detractors calling for her to step aside.

President Park Geun-hye looks at opposition lawmakers staging a rally calling for her resignation over a political scandal involving her longtime confidante during her visit to the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 8, 2016. (Yonhap)


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