South Korean President Park Geun-hye picked a new prime minister Wednesday, as she battled to preserve her position amid calls for her resignation.
Park, who this week suffered a single-digit approval rating for the first time in her presidency, has come under fire for seeking help in writing speeches from unappointed confidante Choi Soon-sil -- an old family contact accused of secretly steering state affairs, embezzlement and abusing her connections to ensure preferential treatment for her daughter at a top Seoul university.
Prosecutors formally requested a court warrant to arrest Choi on Wednesday afternoon, after she had been detained on an emergency detention basis since being summoned two days earlier.
While awaiting news of the fate facing her scandal-hit friend, Park continues to reshuffle her staff.
Having already accepted the resignations of several key advisers, the president chose Kim Byong-joon to come in as prime minister in an apparent attempt to neutralize her conservative government.
Kim was formerly a senior aide under the left-leaning Roh Moo-hyun administration -- other changes include Financial Services Commission chief Yim Jong-yong being tapped as finance minister and another ex-Roh staff member Park Seung-joo being named as public safety minister.
Despite the suggestion being that the PM would now have a greater influence over state affairs than would ordinarily be the case under South Korea’s president-focused government structure, the country’s main opposition parties immediately adopted a suspicious stance on Park’s appointments and vowed to hold her accountable for the ongoing Blue House scandal.
With Kim needing parliamentary approval, Democratic Party floor leader Woo Sang-ho was one of several high-profile politicians quoted by local news agency Yonhap.
Woo accused the president of “attempting to overcome the crisis by implementing a reshuffle that only looks like a neutral Cabinet from the outside by tapping officials who served under a liberal administration”.
His People’s Party counterpart Park Jie-won added that “Park cannot cover the situation through a reshuffle while avoiding the fact-finding efforts.”
Potential candidate for next year’s presidential election and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon went further by demanding that the president “immediately step down”, echoing the voices of thousands of protesters around the country.