Park Nominates New PM Amid Growing Calls to Step Down

  • By Jung Nok-yong

    November 03, 2016 09:48

    President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday nominated a new prime minister from across the political divide in a bid to shore up the ruins of her government.

    Kim Byong-joon was a senior presidential secretary during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, but it remains to be seen whether he will pass his confirmation hearing in the National Assembly.

    Opposition lawmakers said Park still seems unaware of how precarious her situation is amid growing calls for her resignation over a crony scandal, and should have consulted the parliamentary parties.

    Presidential spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk said, "Considering his value, knowledge and experience, Kim is deemed able to overcome the current challenges and securely steer the Cabinet for the sake of the nation's future."

    Park hopes Kim's track record can unify the country and restore some public confidence in response to calls for a decentralization of presidential authority.

    The prime minister's role is largely administrative, but one Cheong Wa Dae official said Kim would have expanded powers and lead the Cabinet, being "effectively in charge of domestic policy" while Park "withdraws from the leadership."

    Prime Minister nominee Kim Byong-joon speaks to reporters after his nomination is announced on Wednesday. /Yonhap

    But a group of prominent figures including former prime minister Chung Un-chan on Wednesday demanded Park appoint a prime minister in consultation with ruling and opposition lawmakers that the public can accept.

    They pointed out that Park did not even consult her own Saenuri Party before springing her nomination on the public. The group stressed that the new prime minister must wield expanded powers to manage national and economic affairs on behalf of Park, while ensuring that Choi Soon-sil, Park's confidante at the center of a massive influence peddling scandal, as well as others involved in alleged abuses of power, are brought to justice.

    Opposition lawmakers and presidential contenders stepped up their campaign for Park to resign. Former Minjoo Party leader Moon Jae-in told reporters in Naju, South Jeolla Province, "The overwhelming sentiment of the public is for the president to step down. I am very aware of this sentiment and I support it."

    And People's Party lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo held an emergency press conference at the National Assembly and called for Park's resignation, saying she can "no longer represent Korean people."

    Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said Park "lost her authority and credibility as president" and took part in a candlelight vigil downtown calling for her resignation.

    Around 1,000 civic groups plan candlelight protests in downtown Seoul and across the nation on Saturday. Police expect more than 5,000 people to attend. Earlier this week, 75 prominent officials from a wide range of backgrounds in a statement urged Park to form a neutral Cabinet to appease public anger.

    More than 2,000 members of Professors for Democracy and Korea Professor Union gathered in downtown Seoul on Wednesday and held a rally urging the National Assembly to make the president stand trial over her alleged misconduct.

    Revelations over the past weeks have painted a bleak picture of Park as being effectively controlled by Choi, who is accused of enriching herself and her family while meddling in every aspect of government, down to supplying Park with her notably drab trouser suits and cheap handbags designed by a hanger-on.

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