President Park Geun-hye is likely to appoint a new prime minister soon after she returns from her visit to the United Arab Emirates to speed up her efforts to deal with the political crisis that has developed since the Sewol disaster.
The appointment is expected to be followed by a Cabinet reshuffle.
A senior Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on Tuesday that it would not take long for her to name a new second-in-command, and that the appointment would be carried out soon after she returns on Wednesday morning. The official, however, declined to say whether Park has already picked a nominee to replace incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won.
Chung offered to resign last month, taking responsibility for the government's failure to deal with the disaster. Park, however, ordered Chung to remain at his post until the crisis was under control.
President Park left for the UAE on Monday, six hours after she delivered a national address over the ferry sinking. In her tearful apology, she vowed to break up the Coast Guard for its failed rescue mission and held herself responsible for the disaster. The address was seen as Park's attempt to move on from the Sewol disaster.
After the two-day trip, the president is likely to make announcements of her new ministerial lineup in overhauling her government, which is currently under mounting criticism for its poor initial response and crisis management.
Park is also expected to carry out a sweeping reform in the public sector to end collusive ties between government officials and businesses, which she believes were a major factor in the ferry sinking. However, the planned reshuffle, along with a package of reforms proposed by the president, is likely to face fierce resistance from the main opposition party.
Park attended a ceremony to mark the installation of a nuclear reactor at a power plant being built by a consortium of Korean companies. It is the first atomic reactor developed and exported to a foreign country. The reactor obtained international recognition for safety after undergoing two tests in the UAE, officials said.
A group of South Korean power plant operators and construction companies won a landmark deal in 2009 to provide four nuclear reactors and build related facilities in the UAE.
During her visit, the two countries signed three memorandums of understanding to promote the exchange of human resources in the nuclear power plant industry, officials said.
The two sides agreed to promote an internship exchange programme to offer education and training opportunities for 30 college students majoring in nuclear engineering from each country every year. They also agreed to expand cooperation to launch a plant services industry in the UAE.
On the sidelines of her trip, Park held talks with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to seek ways to expand cooperation not only in the nuclear industry but also in other areas, such as national defence, policing, medicine and education, officials said.
It was their second meeting, after the crown prince visited Seoul in February.
Cheong Wa Dae had previously planned to visit two other countries in the region but scaled down the trip, citing the worsening political situation at home over the ferry disaster that left more than 300 dead or missing. The UAE had strongly requested for Park to attend the ceremony, officials said.