Chief of staff and four others quit as Park Geun-hye faces pressure to step down over ties to controversial friend.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has replaced her prime minister and two other top officials in an attempt to restore public confidence amid a political scandal involving her confidante.
Wednesday’s reshuffles came as prosecutors were investigating whether a personal friend of Park’s with no government job used her ties with the president to pull government strings from the shadows and pushed businesses to donate money to foundations she controlled.
Prosecutors were expected to seek an arrest warrant for the friend, Choi Soon-sil, later in the day.
Park acknowledged last week that Choi had edited some of her speeches and provided public-relations help.
South Korean media speculate that Choi perhaps played a much larger role in government affairs.
Park’s office said on Wednesday that she nominated Kim Byong-joon, a former top policy adviser for late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, as her new prime minister.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said: “There had been talk of trying to appoint a more powerful prime minister and create a cabinet of national unity, distancing the wheels of the government more and more from the presidency.”
The nomination, which requires parliamentary approval, is seen as an effort by the conservative Park to reach out to liberals for bipartisan support amid the scandal that has already forced her to fire eight presidential aides.
The two other cabinet jobs that Park reshuffled were the finance minister and safety minister, and their nominations aren’t subject to parliamentary endorsement though they must undergo hearings at the National Assembly.
“With the opposition boycotting any National Assembly hearings, the new appointment will not be smooth; nothing has been for Park Geun-hye for some weeks now,” our correspondent said.
South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party immediately criticised Park’s reshuffle, saying it was an attempt to divert attention from the scandal.
It said Park must reveal the whole truth about her ties with Choi and the scandal.
Latest public surveys put Park’s approval rating at about 10 percent, the lowest since her inauguration in February 2013.
The surveys showed about half of respondents think Park should resign or be impeached by members of parliament.
Thousands of people rallied in Seoul over the weekend, demanding Park’s resignation.
South Korea’s executive power is concentrated in the president, but the prime minister, the No 2 government post, leads the country if the president becomes incapacitated.
Choi has been close to Park since Choi’s father, the leader of a religious cult, gained Park’s trust by reportedly convincing her that he could communicate with her assassinated mother.
Choi’s father denied that in a 1990 media interview.
Park has already long been criticised for an aloof manner and for relying on only a few long-time confidants.
That she may have been outsourcing sensitive decisions to someone outside of government, and someone connected with a murky back story has incensed many.