Sweeping Cabinet Reshuffle Brings Lee Loyalists to Office

      August 09, 2010 09:55

      Kim Tae-ho

      President Lee Myung-bak named former South Gyeongsang Province governor Kim Tae-ho as new prime minister in the biggest Cabinet reshuffle since he took office in early 2008. Kim (48) is the fifth prime minister in his 40s. The last one was in 1971, when Kim Jong-pil became PM at the age of 45.

      Lee also replaced seven ministers who oversaw education, culture, agriculture, economy, welfare, labor and special affairs. Also reshuffled were the chairman of the National Labor Relations Commission, chief of the Prime Minister's Office, head of the Ministry of Government Legislation and the commissioner of the National Tax Service.

      The sweeping reshuffle is seen as demonstrating Lee's will to forge ahead with the four-rivers mega project and policies involving North Korea and foreign affairs. The appointment of key confidant Lee Jae-oh as minister for special affairs and other loyal officials to key posts also reflects his desire to maintain a firm grip on government in the second half of his tenure.

      "There are two reasons behind the reshuffle," said a high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official. "One is to reinvigorate the administration by appointing younger people and the other is to ensure a pro-government atmosphere."

      Lee Jae-oh is the president's undisputed right-hand man. "The minister for special affairs handles specific tasks the president assigns," a Cheong Wa Dae official said. "Lee Jae-oh's appointment shows the president wants to forge ahead with major plans like the four-rivers restoration project, policies supporting low-income earners, North Korean affairs and Constitutional change."

      Lee Ju-ho is to become education minister, Shin Jae-min culture minister and Chin Soo-hee health minister. All three are thought to be loyal supporters of the president.

      Lee did not replace the ministers of defense and foreign affairs. The Cheong Wa Dae official said this shows that the president's views on North Korea have not changed. The nomination as agriculture minister of Yoo Jeong-bok, a former chief secretary for Lee's main rival former Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye, shows Lee is seeking to open channels of dialogue with Park. So far any communication between the two has gone through intermediaries, which often created misunderstandings.

      GNP figures say Lee was apparently emboldened by the ruling party's victory in by-elections on July 28 after a major defeat in local elections in June.

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