President Moon Jae-in on Monday asked for understanding over a controversy surrounding his prime minister nominee amid repeated demands for his apology from opposition parties.
"I ask for people's and opposition lawmakers' understanding in that the ongoing controversy over nominations has been caused by a lack of time to thoroughly verify," Moon said during a weekly meeting with his senior secretaries at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
Officials said the president did not use the word "apology" or "apologize." But his remarks came after nearly all opposition parties demanded an apology from the president.
Moon's presidential chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, offered an apology last week over a past wrongdoing by Prime Minister-nominee Lee Nak-yon's wife, who had falsely registered her residence in an attempt to be assigned to the school of her choice while working as a public school teacher.
The decades-old misdeed, though small, still constitutes a crime under local law, and more importantly it is one of the five major corruptive misdeeds the president said would keep him from nominating a person to a government office should they be suspected of such misdeeds.
"What has already happened can only be decided by the confirmation hearing committee at the National Assembly, but I ask the offices of personnel affairs and civil affairs to come up with standards for new government officials that are realistic but can still meet the expectations of the people," the president said.
The president said it did not mean he was withdrawing his earlier pledge to keep people suspected of corruption away from government offices, but only that he was admitting to certain difficulties in real life.
The Moon Jae-in administration came into office on May 10, one day after the country held a rare presidential by-election caused by the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye over corruption allegations.
The controversy over the past wrongdoing by Lee's wife further gathered attention after Moon's nominees for foreign minister and Fair Trade Commission chief also came under scrutiny over similar allegations.
Whether the opposition parties would accept the president's remarks as an apology and resolve the current impasse also remained to be seen as they had demanded the president appear and deliver his apology personally.
"Rather than making flimsy excuses through his chief of staff, (Moon) should confidently stand in front of the TV (to explain his stance on the controversies) in the same way he did when he announced his election pledge," Chung Woo-taik, floor leader and interim chief of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), said earlier.
The prime minister-nominee is required to win parliamentary approval for his appointment.
Other cabinet members, including the foreign minister, as well as the FTC chief, do not need the parliament's approval for their appointment, though they are required to undergo a parliamentary confirmation hearing.
Opposition parties currently control a combined majority of votes at the 299-seat National Assembly with the main opposition LKP controlling 107 seats.
The ruling Democratic Party has 120 seats, making it the single largest party in the unicameral parliament, but still far short of a majority. (Yonhap)