South Korea's point man on North Korea offered to resign on Tuesday to return to the country's troubled ruling party, an aide said. Unification Minister Chung Dong-young expressed his desire to quit at a breakfast meeting with President Roh Moo-hyun, said Kim Sang-il, an aide to Chung.
"The ruling party is in a difficult situation and the party wants him back," Kim said. Chung was a former chairman of the ruling Uri Party before taking the current post, where he spearheaded South Korean government's efforts to foster political and economic exchanges with its communist rival.
He has led several South Korean delegations to North Korea for Cabinet-level talks and has met the country's strongman Kim Jong Il. The ruling party has seen its popularity wane amid soaring property prices and a scandal involving a failed government-funded oil project in Russia.
"I plan to devote myself to helping the party regain public confidence," Chung was quoted as saying in an interview with South Korea's Yonhap news agency. Chung's resignation has been widely expected as he has already hinted at his resignation by the end of the year to return to the ruling party and prepare to run in the 2007 presidential election.
Chung, a telegenic news anchor-turned-politican, has been considered one of the most likely candidates for the 2007 presidential election to succeed Roh. In by-elections in October, the ruling party failed to win a single seat out of the four at stake.
The ruling camp's popularity has been low, below 20 percent according to local media, amid public discontent over stagnant job growth, rising housing prices and unsatisfactory reforms. In by-elections in April, the party lost all 23 races to opposition parties, reports the AP. I.L.