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Ruling party struggling to contain botched Cabinet appointments, sex scandal
SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- The ruling Saenuri Party is struggling to contain the fallout from the botched Cabinet appointments and mounting uproar over the sex bribery scandal, sources said Saturday.

   The incidents are sources of concern because they can adversely affect the forward momentum of the new Park Geun-hye administration that took office late last month and may impact the by-election for parliamentary seats slated for April 24.

   Five nominees for the Cabinet and senior government positions -- including those originally tapped for prime minister and defense minister -- have stepped down, raising criticism that Park's aides are not doing their jobs in screening candidates for possible grounds for disqualification.

   In addition, the opposition has said it opposes the president's nomination for the chief Constitutional Court justice and head of the Fair Trade Commission.

   Reflecting this, party spokesman Lee Sang-il formally criticized the presidential Cheong Wa Dae for not doing a thorough job in screening candidates and asked that measures be taken against those responsible for the situation.

   The attack against the presidential office by the ruling party spokesman is a rare development in South Korean politics and may reflect the concerns within the Saenuri Party.

   A lawmaker, who declined to be identified, said that the party's leadership should speak their minds about the mismanagement of affairs instead of remaining silent.

   He added that while it is fortunate that the government reorganization bill was passed Friday after being held up for over 50 days, the Saenuri's leadership was overly conscious about what the presidential office was thinking when engaging in negotiations with the opposition.

   Party insiders said such mismanagement has caused Park approval rating to dip to 44 percent. She took office on Feb. 25 as the country's first female president.

   Besides the appointment debacle, the Saenuri Party is keeping close tabs on the unfolding sex scandal that has already caused Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui to step down and may implicate other public figures.

   There have been rumors that authorities are investigating three Saenuri lawmakers in relation to allegations that a local contractor surnamed Yoon may have used sexual favors to peddle influence and even blackmail people.

   The alleged sexual favors took place at Yoon's country house in Wongju, 132 kilometers east of Seoul, from 2009 onwards.

   Although the events took place under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, public opinion may sour against the ruling camp that can affect the party's ability to win seats in the upcoming by-elections.

   On the other hand, a senior party official said that it is too early to say if the sex scandal will directly affect the Saenuri Party as investigations are still underway.

   "It is a relief that the reorganization bill has been passed, but there is a need to wait and see if the government will operate smoothly," said the senior official.

   yonngong@yna.co.kr
(END)
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