President Park Geun-hye nominated the ruling Saenuri Party’s floor leader Rep. Lee Wan-koo as the new prime minister on Friday in a surprising decision seen as an attempt to lift her falling public support.
Cheong Wa Dae also announced lists of three new senior presidential secretaries and four new special advisors as part of Park’s reorganization plan. The president, however, decided to retain Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon for the time being, despite persistent demands from political parties to sack him for allegedly exercising too much power in state affairs and personnel choices.
Rep. Lee will replace Chung Hong-won after parliamentary approval is granted. South Korea’s prime minister is the nation’s second-highest post, but serves a ceremonial role as power is heavily concentrated in the president. Chung, the first prime minister of the Park administration, retained his post after two of Park’s choices to replace him withdrew their nominations over ethical breaches.
“President Park Geun-hye accepted Chung’s resignation as he offered to resign several times and nominated Rep. Lee as the new prime minister,” said Yoon Doo-hyun, senior presidential secretary for the press.
“The nominee has a deep understanding of the president’s philosophy in running state affairs and has contributed to normalizing the operation of the National Assembly by (leading) smooth cooperation with the opposition party,” Yoon said.
In an acceptance speech, Rep. Lee vowed to devote himself to the people and steer the government’s drive to bring about economic reform, and to enhance communication with the main opposition parties.
“If I become prime minister after obtaining parliamentary approval, I will devote myself to reviving the economy,” Rep. Lee said.
The politician, who served as governor of South Chungcheong province, said he was offered the post late Thursday evening and accepted the nomination in the morning.
“After much thought, I accepted to the nomination to support President Park, and also for the country and the people,” he said, adding that he would become a prime minister who could speak frankly to the president about state affairs.
Park also named Woo Byung-woo as new senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, and Cho Shin, a Yonsei University professor, as new senior presidential secretary for future strategies. Hyun Jung-taik, the former head of the state-run Korea Development Institute, was tapped as new senior presidential secretary for policy coordination.
The president also named four experts as special advisors assigned to give her direct advice on state affairs.
Shin Sung-ho, former deputy managing editor at the JoongAng Ilbo, was appointed as new presidential advisor for public relations; Lee Myung-jae, former prosecutor-general, as new advisor for civil affairs; Kim Sung-woo, a director at Seoul Broadcasting System, as new advisor for social and cultural affairs; and Lim Jong-in, a Korea University professor considered one of the leading experts on cyberterror, as her special security advisor.
Cheong Wa Dae said that the office would announce more special advisors later including one for political affairs, and the nominee for the Maritime Minister post, which has been vacant since last year.
The president decided to retain Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon though he has been pressured to step down since last year by the opposition parties, who held him responsible for a series of incidents including a Blue House document leak and the so-called “Chung Yoon-hoi scandal.” Park also kept three secretaries, known as “doorknobs to the president,” who have been accused of holding secret meetings with Chung Yoon-hoi, an aide to Park years ago, and exchanging confidential information with him. The prosecution earlier this month concluded that media reports about the scandal were groundless and the document suggesting Chung’s involvement was fabricated.
Earlier this week, Park said she would carry out a “small-scale” Cabinet reshuffle and partially reorganize the presidential office as she seeks to regain public confidence to push ahead with her economic reform drive. According to a local pollster, her job rating plunged to 30 percent this week, the lowest level since she entered office in early 2013.
Earlier, many expected that Park would retain Prime Minister Chung and replace Kim Ki-choon instead. But Park’s surprising decision appears to have been made due to a fierce public backlash over the government’s new tax settlement scheme.
The Park government has come under fire as some people with an annual income of less than 55 million won ($50,700) will have to pay additional taxes this year due to a new tax scheme.
In an emergency meeting, the government and the ruling party have agreed to expand tax credits to appease the angry public.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)