SKorean PM offers to resign for failing to persuade country to scrap plan to move government

By Hyung-jin Kim, AP
Thursday, July 29, 2010

South Korea’s prime minister offers to resign

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s prime minister offered to resign Thursday after parliament shot down his efforts to scrap a plan that would relocate several government ministries out of the capital.

Chung Un-chan, an academic appointed in September, has led the charge to abandon the project, thought up by the previous liberal administration.

President Lee Myung-bak has said the plan to move more than half of the 15 government ministries from Seoul and a nearby city would waste taxpayer money and create inefficiencies.

The National Assembly, however, voted down Lee’s push late last month, forcing him to start work on implementing the original plan that proponents say would help foster regional development and resolve Seoul’s worsening traffic and housing problems.

Chung’s resignation came as a surprise since the ruling Grand National Party won Wednesday’s parliamentary by-elections, which were seen as a referendum on public support for Lee. The post of prime minister is largely ceremonial with little decision-making power, but the person holding the position leads the country if the president becomes incapacitated.

Under the relocation plan, Seoul will remain the capital city and retain the presidential Blue House, the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, among others. But other ministries, including some located in Gwacheon, a city near Seoul, would move to a site about 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the south.

Chung told a nationally televised news conference he had “a guilty conscience for failing to prevent a waste of national strength and national confusion” that the relocation would cause.

President Lee is likely to accept Chung’s resignation, a presidential official said. He asked not to be identified because no official announcement has been made.

But Chung said he would continue his duties as the prime minister until Lee appoints his successor.

Lee has said he would reshuffle his Cabinet after the parliamentary by-elections, but didn’t say if he would replace Chung, too.

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