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.
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Sejong City a compromise
Plans for the new town were introduced by Roh Moo-hyun during his 2002-2008 presidency, after his initial effort to entirely relocate the capital was deemed unconstitutional.
Sejong City, named after the king who invented Korea’s alphabet, was meant to be a compromise that would ease congestion in Seoul by moving some government offices out of the capital. It was also expected to be an economic boon to the underdeveloped central part of the country, winning Mr. Roh political favor among a swing constituency.
Chung became the point man for Lee’s opposition to the plan when he took office in September last year, drafting a revision to make Sejong a business hub instead. Backed by Lee, formerly mayor of Seoul, the prime minister stressed that splitting the capital would cause inefficiency. Critics thought he was neutering the plan.
Even after the proposal was rejected in parliament Thursday last week, Chung maintained his stance.
“If Sejong is built according to the original plan, the president will be in Seoul while the prime minister and other ministers will be in Chungcheong,” he said in a speech the following day. “And when an urgent national issue arises, the decisionmaking process will be slowed and it will be more difficult to handle the crisis.”
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The failure of the effort, combined with the outcome of the June 2 elections and political infighting within Lee’s party, leaves a rough road ahead for the administration.
One Korean political expert, who requested anonymity because the issue is sensitive, says the impact of Chung’s resignation on the president’s ability to govern “is certainly negative.”
“I think we will see a lame duck quite soon,” he adds.
Then there’s the question of who will fill Chung’s shoes.
If I were [the president], I would appoint Park Geun-hye,” says the expert, referring to Lee’s chief political rival in the GNP and a longtime supporter of the original Sejong City plan. “But I guess that is not likely.”
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