Why South Korea's prime minister appears poised to resign
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan's resignation would be a blow to President Lee's government. Chung's efforts to revise a partial government relocation initiative was rejected by parliament last week.
Seoul, South Korea
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan appears poised to resign, in what would deal a humbling blow to the government of Lee Myung-bak, who picked Mr. Chung less than a year ago to lead a major policy initiative.
The parliament’s rejection last week of that drive – which sought to revise the planned relocation of several government offices to a new city – means Mr. Chung has become a political burden to President Lee, analysts say.
Local media reported earlier this week that Mr. Chung expressed his plans to resign in a Saturday meeting with the president. On Wednesday, the Yonhap news agency quoted a source at the presidential office as saying Lee was ready to accept that offer.
Kim Chang-young, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office, would not comment on the report.
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More political theater
But more political theater may precede Chung actually stepping down, says Hahm Sung-deuk, professor of political science at Korea University.
“At this moment the president is trying to save his image,” says Mr. Hahm, adding that the Lee government is now engaged in a “face-saving strategy.”
Mr. Hahm speculates the president will not immediately accept Chung’s resignation because it would appear tactless, but that ultimately the prime minister will go.
South Korea is one of about 80 countries, including Iceland and Madagascar, that have both a president and a prime minister. Here the president serves as chief of the executive branch; the prime minister is his lead assistant, and would act as president in the case of his death.
“The incumbent prime minister is a symbol of the revised plan for Sejong City,” Hahm says. “Unfortunately, the Sejong revision plan was rejected by the people in the June 2 elections, therefore there is no political utility for the current prime minister for the president.”
Last month’s regional elections saw Lee’s Grand National Party (GNP) lose key seats, including in the Chungcheong region where Sejong City is being built.