Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn took a hammering from opposition parties Friday for distributing souvenir wristwatches with his position inscribed as "acting president."
Not only the liberal Democratic Party of Korea and People's Party, but also the conservative splinter Bareun Party, viewed this as reflecting Hwang's tacit presidential ambition and urged him to focus on his current duties.
The disputed watch rose to public attention after somebody put one up for sale online Tuesday, underlining the scarcity of the engraved title "acting president."
"Former acting President Goh Kun did not make such souvenirs. Hwang should give up on his prime ministerial position soon if he wants to run in this year's presidential race," Rep. Park Jie-won, the head of the People's Party said.
Goh served as acting president in 2004, during the impeachment trial of late former President Roh Moo-hyun.
Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the Bareun Party criticised Hwang for "celebrating a national tragedy" instead of focusing on his role.
"Hwang should stop playing president and focus on caring about the livelihoods of the people," Ha said.
While Hwang has not yet revealed whether he intends to run in this year's earlier-than-expected presidential election, he has consistently avoided answering lawmakers' questions on a potential bid. In national polls, the 59-year-old politician stands as a front-runner for the conservative bloc, with support ratings lingering around 10 per cent.
The prime minister's office explained that the engraving was just to reflect Hwang's current status and nothing more, as it ran out of stock on the previous batch, which had read "prime minister."
The watches are used as gifts in cases of the prime minister's official visits to social welfare centres or military bases, officials said, adding that Hwang's title is also used on official documents and award certificates.
The parties also criticised Hwang for not extending the special investigation looking into President Park Geun-hye's corruption scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil. Without Hwang's explicit consent, the investigation is due to expire Tuesday.