Park retains incumbent prime minister: Seoul

S KOREA - President Park Geun-hye has decided to retain incumbent Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, after a series of nomination debacles that dealt a heavy blow to her leadership.

"President Park has turned down Prime Minister Chung Hong-won's offer to resign and asked him to continue to make commitments as Prime Minister," said senior press secretary Yoon Doo-hyun.

This is the first time a president has retained a prime minister who offered to resign in the country's modern history.

Chung offered to resign in late April holding himself responsible for the ferry disaster that killed nearly 300.

Park's decision to keep Chung in the nation's No. 2 post came "after much consideration" and it was to prevent a further vacuum in her state management, the official said.

"President Park promised the people she would carry out state reform and launch a (new) safety system after the Sewol accident. There are urgent state agendas left to push for (the reform drive).

"But many problems exposed in the process of the confirmation hearing have caused a vacuum in state management and split public opinion. The president decided to retain P. M. Chung after much consideration so as to not leave the situation as it is."

The announcement came two days after Moon Chang-keuk, the former nominee for prime minister, withdrew his nomination over mounting criticism of controversial remarks he made. Moon was Park's second choice. Before Moon, Ahn Dae-hee, a former prosecutor, also dropped his nomination amid spiraling allegations that he received favors from his prosecutorial network.

Park tried to placate public criticism by announcing a series of reform measures to eradicate wrongdoings in public office and improve safety standards. She wanted a new prime minister to lead her reform drive.

Amid mounting criticism over Cheong Wa Dae's personnel vetting system, Yoon said a new office will be launched to improve its verification process and to establish a pool of talented candidates throughout the country.

Park has come under pressure to overhaul the current vetting process fraught with problems, such as a highly limited pool of candidates and a lack of recommendations outside of the presidential inner circle.

By Cho Chung-un (