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Lee’s critic is nominated as prime minister

Chung Un-chan and 6 ministers are named in a major cabinet shake-up   PLAY AUDIO

Sept 04,2009
Chung Un-chan, 63, prime minister-designate, answers questions from reporters yesterday at Seoul National University. [YONHAP]

The economist Chung Un-chan, a former Seoul National University president, was named as the prime minister-designate yesterday in a major cabinet shake-up. President Lee Myung-bak also nominated six new ministers in a move aimed at promoting his economic and political agendas.

Three incumbent lawmakers of the Grand National Party joined Lee’s 17-member cabinet, including the position of minister without portfolio, which had been vacant since the launch of the administration.

Chung, a 63-year-old native of South Chungcheong, was selected for his organizational skills, ability to maintain harmony and his global network, the Blue House said. “The president believes in Chung’s leadership of engagement and reconciliation in order to push forward the government’s major agendas,” said Kim Eun-hye, presidential spokeswoman.

Chung, one of the most celebrated economists in Korea, has been critical of the Lee administration’s economic policies, particularly the four major river restoration project. Perhaps a pre-emptive move to counter public disparagement for appointing a detractor to head the cabinet, the Blue House said anticipation is high for Chung’s constructive criticism.

“In the past, Chung presented constructive advice and alternatives to the Lee government’s policies. His experience will allow him to assist the president more effectively, oversee the cabinet and productively push forward centrist pragmatism and people-friendly policies,” the Blue House said in a press release.

Shortly after the announcement, Chung held a press conference at Seoul National University. “Because of where Korea stands today at home and abroad I cannot just sit behind a desk,” Chung said. “None of the challenges we are facing today will be easy to solve, such as the uncertain macroeconomy, the problems facing people’s livelihoods, the enormous burden on private education spending, the job crisis, social conflict, regionalism and inter-Korean relations.

“I know I have many shortcomings, but I will bring together wisdom and the nation’s experiences to create a stepping stone for social unity and assist the president based on my expertise and efforts to help resolve these issues,” Chung said.

The Princeton-educated economist said he had criticized Lee’s policies in the past, but he had learned through a recent meeting that his economic philosophies were similar to the president’s. “We both think competition should be encouraged in principle, but those who have fallen behind must be warmly cared for,” Chung said.

Chung will face a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly at a later date. For President Lee to formally appoint the new prime minister, more than half the incumbent lawmakers must participate in a vote, and a majority must vote for Chung.

“As soon as the necessary documents are ready, we will ask the National Assembly to confirm the designations of the prime minister and ministers,” spokeswoman Kim said.

Lee Kwi-nam, former vice minister of justice, was named Lee’s new justice minister. The 58-year-old South Jeolla native passed the bar in 1980 and has worked as a prosecutor throughout his career. He headed the Daegu High Prosecutors’ Office from March 2008 to January 2009 and served as the vice justice minister until July this year.

Lee and three other senior prosecutors quit their posts in July following his decision to nominate Chun Sung-gwan as the new prosecutor general. The four, including Lee, received legal training at the same time as Chun, and left the hierarchal world of prosecutors to make way for a younger person. Chun’s nomination, however, was withdrawn after corruption allegations were revealed at the National Assembly confirmation hearings.

Lee’s appointment was also seen as a surprise because he is one year junior to the new prosecutor general, Kim Joon-gyu.

Kim Tae-young, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was named defense minister.

GNP Representative Choi Kyung-hwan was named the Knowledge Economy minister. Choi worked as a public servant and an editorial writer for the Korea Economic Daily until he was elected a lawmaker in 2004. Representing Gyeongsan and Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang, he was re-elected for a second term last year.

Choi is known as a loyalist to Park Geun-hye, a political heavyweight who lost the GNP’s presidential candidacy to President Lee Myung-bak in the primary in the 2007 election. By including a pro-Park lawmaker in his cabinet, President Lee appears to be trying to mend the rupture between the pro-Park and pro-Lee factions.

According to the Blue House, Choi’s expertise in economic policy coordination was a key factor.

“Choi also has a deep understanding about the energy and IT industries, the growth engine of the country, and the president expects him to push forward his green growth strategy,” the Blue House said. Another GNP lawmaker, Joo Ho-young, was named as minister without portfolio, filling a post vacant since the launch of the administration.

The 49-year-old two-term lawmaker once served as the party’s spokesman and deputy floor leader, and the Blue House said he was trusted by both ruling and opposition parties.

“By cooperating with the senior political affairs secretary, Joo is expected to play a role as the bridge between the GNP, administration and the Blue House,” the press release said.

The position of minister without portfolio disappeared from the cabinet in 1998 when the Kim Dae-jung administration downsized the cabinet structure.

In the past, a minister without portfolio often focused on political affairs, which is what Joo is also expected to do.

The expectation is that Joo’s activities will include inter-Korean affairs.

“When a president makes an order, I will follow,” Joo said, adding he will do his best to enhance communication between the legislature, Blue House and administration.

Representative Yim Tae-hee, a three-term GNP lawmaker, was named as labor minister. After 20 years as a public servant in the finance field, Yim was elected as a lawmaker in 2000. He has also headed the Youido Institute, a conservative think tank.

Paik Hee-young, a professor of food and nutrition at Seoul National University, was named the new minister of gender equality.

According to the Blue House, Paik, the former head of the Korean Home Economics Association, possesses pragmatic leadership skills and is the best candidate to redefine the values and roles of gender equality, family and home to meet global standards.

President Lee’s new cabinet is much younger than his last. The average age of the cabinet members is now 59, compared to 62.4 before.

Han Seung-soo, the predecessor of the Prime Minister-designate Chung, is 73, and five ministers replaced yesterday were in their 60’s.

Chung, the new prime minister-designate, is 63 and four of the newly designated ministers are in their 50’s. Joo, the designate of the minister without portfolio, is 49, the youngest member of the cabinet.

According to the Blue House, the new cabinet members include four from Gyeonggi and Incheon, up from one from the previous cabinet. Four are Jeolla natives, up from three. The number of ministers from Gyeongsang, Chungcheong and Jeju remained five, three and one respectively.



By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]




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