SEOUL: South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak yesterday named a former provincial governor as new prime minister, and replaced seven other ministers in the biggest cabinet reshuffle since he took power in early 2008.
But Lee kept his current foreign, defence and unification ministers in place amid continuing high tensions with North Korea over the sinking of a South Korean warship.
Kim Tae-Ho, 47, will be the country’s youngest prime minister for almost 40 years if parliament confirms his nomination.
Lee, who is halfway through his single five-year term of office, also announced new ministers for education (Lee Ju-Ho); culture (Shin Jae-Min); agriculture (Yoo Jeong-Bok); the knowledge economy ministry (Lee Jae-Hoon); health (Chin Soo-Hee); labour (Bahk Jae-Wan) and special affairs (Lee Jae-Oh).
Presidential spokesman Hong Sang-Pyo said Kim, former governor of South Gyeongsang province in the southeast, was expected to play a key role in improving communications with the younger generation.
Lee’s conservative ruling Grand National Party suffered a major defeat in June local elections, although it bounced back by unexpectedly winning five of eight parliamentary by-elections on July 28.
Previous prime minister Chung Un-Chan resigned late last month following the government’s failure to win parliamentary approval for a key development project.
Kim Kyung-Min, a politics professor at Seoul’s Hanyang University, said the fact that Lee kept his strategically important ministers in place indicates no change in his North Korea policies.
“Given the hostile relations between Seoul and Pyongyang and the voter sentiment in South Korea that is not favourable to the North, I don’t think the situation will change anytime soon,” he told AFP.
Lee announced a partial trade cut-off and other reprisals against the North after international investigators concluded that a North Korean submarine had torpedoed a South Korean warship near the disputed Yellow Sea border in March.
The North vehemently denies carrying out the attack, which killed 46 sailors.
It has threatened possible retaliation for an ongoing major South Korean anti-submarine exercise.
“I think the current administration learned the lesson the hard way that they need more communication with young voters after the June local elections,” said Kim, the Hanyang professor.
“Naming Kim as prime minister shows a determination to forge closer relations with young Koreans.” Nominees must be approved by parliament, where Lee’s party has an overwhelming majority “Today’s young Koreans in their twenties and thirties are in deep despair… but I want to show them Korea is a land of opportunity,” prime minister-designate Kim told a press conference, in an apparent reference to high youth unemployment.
“Having been born the son of a poor cattle farmer and later becoming the youngest county chief and the governor, I want to give them hope, that they can make it if they have courage and work hard.”
The president named Lee Jae-Oh, one of his closest aides, as minister for special affairs, tasked with dealing with political affairs.
He was promoted just 11 days after securing victory in the July 28 by-elections. — AFP