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Yoon's office denies considering liberal figures for key posts

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : April 17, 2024 - 15:20

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An exterior view of the presidential office in Seoul (GettyImages) An exterior view of the presidential office in Seoul (GettyImages)

The presidential office on Wednesday denied rumors that President Yoon Suk Yeol, in his search for candidates for a new prime minister and key aides, reached out to liberal figures who formerly worked for his predecessor Moon Jae-in.

The presidential office "has not considered any plans to hire former SMEs and Startups Minister Park Young-sun or Yang Jung-chul, former head of the Institute for Democracy," it said in a statement Wednesday. The Institute for Democracy is the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea's think tank.

The statement was released in response to media reports on Wednesday morning that Yoon's office is likely to nominate Park as the new Prime Minister, and name Yang as his new chief of staff. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo offered to resign from his post a week earlier following the ruling party's crushing defeat in the April 10 general election.

The news triggered mixed reactions from Yoon's allies and opponents.

Rep. Kwon Young-se of the ruling People Power Party, who is set to begin his fifth term in May following his April 10 election victory, said in a radio interview that Wednesday's media reports "indicate that Yoon's office sets no limit" in reshuffling his Cabinet and office. Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People Power Party, starting his fourth term in May, also said that Yoon's nomination could signal "bipartisan cooperation" as seen in the past.

But veteran conservative lawmaker Rep. Kweon Seong-dong said on social media Wednesday that Yoon's office "should never explore the possibility of picking figures who deny the (conservative) party's identity." Lawmaker-elect Kim Yong-tae of the People Power Party also said the nomination could "prompt backlash from conservative supporters."

Immediately after Yoon's aides and prime minister expressed their intention to step down, conservative figures such as former Land Minister Won Hee-ryong, Rep. Jang Je-won of the People Power Party, lawmaker Kwon and liberal political heavyweight Kim Han-gil were reported to be on the list of candidates to succeed them.

The Democratic Party's spokesperson Rep. Kwon Chil-seung said Saturday that the news reports "raised doubts as to whether Yoon was taking voter sentiment seriously."

On Tuesday, Yoon said at the Cabinet meeting he would "take heed of the public sentiment and communicate more with people with humility and flexibility," in his first public speech after the April election defeat.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Han said in a press briefing in Seoul on Wednesday that his successor had yet to be determined, and it would take at least a month for them to take his place. Han added that he was not well aware of the decision-making process of the presidential office, adding it "might have discussed" asking liberal figures to take key posts.