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Lee to replace at least 4 ministers

President Lee Myung-bak is expected to name on Wednesday successors to ministers of health, unification, gender equality and perhaps culture, as three of the incumbents plan to run in the general elections seven months away.

Ministers Lee Jae-oh of special affairs, Chung Byoung-gug of culture and Chin Soo-hee of health currently hold seats in the National Assembly as ruling party lawmakers and plan to run for another term in the April 11 elections.

President Lee finalized the decision to send the three back to the parliament after talks with ruling party chairman Hong Joon-pyo on Monday during which the two discussed pending issues including the Cabinet reshuffle and the upcoming mayoral by-election.

The post of the minister of special affairs is expected to be kept empty for the time being.

Rim Che-min, minister of the Prime Minister‘s Office, and Rep. Kim Kum-lae of the Grand National Party are believed most likely to be named the new ministers of health and gender equality, respectively, according to multiple sources in the ruling bloc.

Others such as vice minister of health Choi Won-young and Commissioner of Korea Food and Drug Administration Noh Yun-hong are also being considered as the nation’s top health official.

The presidential office was grinding to pick the new culture minister nominee after actor and musical producer Song Seung-hwan declined the job offer.

“It is not easy to find someone in the culture, arts or sports circles who is highly capable of running a big organization,” a presidential aide said.

“We are not looking for someone new; we’re waiting for the president’s final decision among the existing candidates. The culture minister nomination might have to wait until after tomorrow if necessary.”

Among the list of final candidates are former Gangwon Province governor Kim Jin-sun who led PyeongChang’s efforts to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, Seoul Arts Center president and former vice culture minister Kim Jang-sil, ex-vice minister of culture Yu Jin-ryong who had turned down the job offer as top presidential aide for public relations last year.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek and Gender Equality Minister Paik Hee-young are also expected to be replaced. Hyun has been on the job for two and a half years, Paik nearly two years.

As for Seoul’s top point man on North Korea, Lee’s first presidential chief-of-staff and former ambassador to China Yu Woo-ik has been the most likely candidate for months.

Not much time will be given for legislators to grill and humiliate the new Cabinet minister nominees in the nationally televised confirmation hearings this time as parliamentary audits on government offices are slated to begin Sept. 19.

The National Assembly is required by law to complete confirmation hearings for the Cabinet minister nominees within 20 days upon receiving requests for the hearings. The parliament is bound to adopt reports on the results of the hearings, report them at the plenary session and submit them to the president within three days after the hearings.

But even if Cheong Wa Dae sends a request for confirmation hearings to the National Assembly immediately after announcing the nominees on Wednesday, there will be only 10 business days left before Sept. 19 for the National Assembly to complete the procedures pertaining to the confirmations.

By Kim So-hyun(