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South Korea president retains incumbent PM Chung Hong Won

Published on Jun 26, 2014 10:05 AM
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won leaves after announcing his resignation at a news conference at the Integrated Government Building in Seoul April 27, 2014. South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Thursday retained Prime Minister Chung Hong Won, a sign that underscores the difficulty in finding a qualified nominee for the country's number two job.-- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS) – South Korean President Park Geun Hye rejected the resignation of her prime minister on Thursday and asked him to stay on after her second nominee for the job stood aside over controversial comments he had made about Korea’s troubled past with Japan.

The decision to keep incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong Won, who tendered his resignation two months ago over the government’s flawed response to a ferry disaster, heightened concerns about her ability to rule and push through reforms.

“The fact that a prime minister who has offered to resign is staying means it’s going to be difficult to see her promises get fulfilled,” said political commentator Rhee Jong Hoon, who heads iGM Consulting.

Ms Park has suffered a sharp drop in public support since the April 16 ferry tragedy that killed more than 300 people, many of them children on a school trip. The latest polls show a 20-percentage point plunge in her ratings.

Her government has been criticised for slow and incompetent handling of the rescue operation and she has vowed dramatic reform to fix bureaucratic corruption and regulatory oversight that have been cited as causes of the tragedy.

The post of prime minister is largely ceremonial, with power focused on the presidency, but Ms Park’s failure to install a convincing candidate cast fresh doubt about her ability to rule Asia’s fourth-largest economy and push through tough reforms.

"It’s a problem. We keep seeing these stumbles and mishaps,” said Mr Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group. “At some point, everywhere, governments have to govern. You have to get policy through.”

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