South Korea's Park again in search of a prime minister

South Korea's Park again in search of a prime minister
South Korea's Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo (C) prepares to pose for a group photo with cabinet members during his departure ceremony at a government complex in Seoul, South Korea, April 27, 2015.

TOKYO - South Korean President Park Geun-hye is in trouble. With more than half of her five-year term to go, she is already looking for her sixth prime minister -- and the selection process is not going smoothly.

On April 27, Park accepted the resignation of her latest prime minister, Lee Wan-koo, who is stepping down over a bribery scandal. Lee's alleged involvement in the matter was brought to light during an investigation into illegal transactions related to the resource diplomacy of former President Lee Myung-bak, Park's immediate predecessor and chief political rival.

Corruption allegations

The former prime minister came under suspicion after construction tycoon Sung Wan-jong, himself being investigated over corruption allegations, committed suicide in April. Sung left behind a list of names incriminating high-profile figures he claimed to have bribed, including Lee, high-ranking officials in the Blue House and ex-managers of the presidential secretary office.

Lee declared an all-out war against corruption in March and was found to have "spotless" record during screening prior to his appointment as prime minister. It would be more than a little embarrassing, then, if it turns out allegations he received 30 million won ($28,323) in illegal campaign contributions are true. Though he denies any wrongdoing, Lee was forced to leave office as the nation's shortest-serving prime minister.

Park is entering her third year as president. She has designated 2015 as a "golden time" for tackling major challenges -- overhauling the public servant pension system, introducing labour and education reforms and revitalizing the economy -- because there are no elections on the horizon. But the Lee scandal has already significantly undermined her unifying power. Her popularity rating currently is hovering at around 30 per cent.

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