President Park Geun-hye, who is struggling to bolster her position in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster, faces the tricky challenge of finding another suitable candidate for prime minister, raising worries over a further delay in her state reform drive.
Prime Minister designate Ahn Dae-hee withdrew himself from nomination on Wednesday amid spiraling controversy over his high income and accusations that he received special favors.
The nomination of Ahn, a former star prosecutor who led investigations into high-profile graft cases, signified Park's determination to fight corruption and regain public trust in her government. But with Ahn stepping down from the nomination, Park is back at square one.
Not only the new prime minister, but the president as well has come under heightened pressure from opposition parties to replace chief of staff Kim Ki-choon. Kim, Park's long-time aide, has been criticised for exercising too much power behind the scenes and making a series of unsuccessful nominations. Kim is the head of the presidential committee for personnel affairs.
Cheong Wa Dae has already started looking for new nominees amid growing concerns that Ahn's resignation could be a significant setback for Park's reform drive. The president said she would give greater authority to the new prime minister to end corruptive practices in public offices, seen as a "root cause" of the Sewol disaster.
The new premier will replace incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who offered to resign last month, holding himself responsible for the government's poor response during the ferry disaster.
The president also needs to have a new prime minister in office in order to carry out a major reshuffle.
Under the law, the president needs to have recommendations from the prime minister in order to appoint new Cabinet members.
But with Cheong Wa Dae looking for a new candidate, the planned Cabinet shake-up is likely to be delayed far longer than expected. Without having new ministers aboard, her reform drive is likely to be pushed back considerably. In the last two weeks, the president has announced a series of reform measures and a major government restructuring plan to placate the angry public over the ferry fiasco.
Park said she will dismantle the Coast Guard and transfer its core functions to a new ministry to be launched under the Prime Minister's Office. She also plans to name a new deputy prime minister to handle social issues.
Even if Park picks a new nominee right away, it would take more than two weeks to get approval from Parliament.
Some reports say that Park will pick one of the candidates recommended by the ruling Saenuri Party. The names include Rep. Kim Moo-sung, who spearheaded her presidential campaign; Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan, known as her closest aide; and Han Kwang-ok, a former aide to then-President Kim Dae-jung.
Gyeonggi Gov. Kim Moon-soo has also been cited as a leading candidate for the prime ministerial post, with his eight years of experience in the municipal office and the public image of a reformer and humble figure. Some political commentators, however, said it is quite uncertain whether Kim will accept Cheong Wa Dae's call even if the top office nominates him as the nation's second-in-command.
"Kim has wished to run for presidency. He won't give it (this ambition) up by easily accepting Cheong Wa Dae's offer," a political commentator said.
Some commentators say Park needs to look for someone who has no ties to power, politics and government to assure the public and the opposition parties that the nominee has no ethical lapses.