Prime Minister nominee Ahn resigns

May 28, 2014
Ahn Dai-hee bows after announcing the withdrawal of his nomination for the post of prime minister.  (Yonhap)

Ahn Dai-hee bows after announcing the withdrawal of his nomination for the post of prime minister. (Yonhap)

By Chung Min-uck

Prime Minister nominee Ahn Dae-hee withdrew his nomination Wednesday over a mushrooming controversy concerning a large sum of money he received in lawyer’s fees after he retired.

Ahn’s withdrawal is expected to deal a body blow to President Park Geun-hye’s bid to regain public trust after the Sewol ferry disaster.

“To remain a nominee for prime minister would not only be a big burden to the President but cause great pain to my family,” he said in a surprise news conference. “I am also sorry for causing problems for the President.”

Ahn, a former star prosecutor and Supreme Court justice, was tapped last Thursday to lead an anti-corruption drive to put the nation back on track after the ferry tragedy showed irregularities throughout society, especially in officialdom.

Cheong Wa Dae said Park “expressed disappointment” at the news.

Ahn has come under criticism for making 1.6 billion won ($1.56 million) as a lawyer between July and December last year by allegedly benefiting from his former status.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) has been calling for his withdrawal, stressing that this practice is one of the ills that Park has vowed to uproot.

It said it makes no sense for Ahn to take the lead in such efforts when he was a beneficiary of the same practice.

In an effort to allay criticism Monday, Ahn promised to donate 1.1 billion won of his personal wealth to charity.

But criticism did not die down.

Retired prosecutors and judges are preferred as lawyers as they are more likely to win lawsuits because of their influence and connections with incumbent former-colleagues under a long-denounced practice known as “jeongwanyewu,” which means giving “honorable treatment to predecessors.”

The surprise decision is expected to deal a blow to Park administration as it comes just six days after Park nominated Ahn in a first step to put together a new lineup of top officials to regain public confidence in her administration battered by the tragic sinking of the ferry Sewol.

His resignation could also negatively affect the ruling Saenuri Party in the June 4 local elections.

Its candidates have already been suffering from low popularity because of the government’s slow and incompetent response to the sinking of the ferry Sewol on April 16, which claimed the lives of almost 300 people, mostly high school students.

Meanwhile, the ruling and the main opposition party showed mixed responses.

Saenuri Party spokesman Rep. Park Dae-chul, while expressing disappointment about Ahn’s decision, said, “The NPAD has deprived the nominee of a chance for a parliamentary hearing… politicizing all issues for their benefit will also play unfavorably for them in the future.”

NPAD spokesman Park Kwang-on responded: “The withdrawal is natural when looked at from an ordinary person’s perspective.”

“The reason behind this collapse is that the presidential office made the nomination not for the people but merely for themselves,” he added.

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