South Korean President Park names Lee Wan-koo prime minister

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 January, 2015, 3:42am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 January, 2015, 3:42am


South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday appointed a new prime minister in an apparent bid to bolster her sagging approval ratings, hit by a scandal involving her aides.

Park named Lee Wan-koo, parliamentary floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, to replace Chung Hong-won as prime minister, the presidential Blue House said in a press statement.

The outgoing prime minister tendered his resignation last year, holding himself responsible for the mishandling of a ferry disaster that claimed more than 300 lives in April.

But while Park tried to replace Chung last year, she was unable to do so because two candidates in a row withdrew their nominations amid disputes over their allegedly tainted past.

As a result, Chung has served in the post throughout.

"I will do my utmost to help turn around the slowing economy," Lee told journalists after being named the new premier, which though the top cabinet member remains a largely ceremonial role in South Korea's political system where the president has what can be described as outsized power.

His nomination requires parliamentary approval. But that is likely to be a matter of formality as the ruling party has a rather comfortable majority in the National Assembly.

Park retained her embattled presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, who faces criticism over a reported power struggle among presidential aides that has gripped the headlines for months, with allegations they wielded undue influence.

Park's approval rating has fallen sharply this month, plunging from 43 per cent on January 9 to an all-time low of 34 per cent on Thursday, posing a growing threat to the government's drive to resuscitate the country's sluggish economy.

The decline in her popularity accelerated after she rejected calls from critics to dismiss three long-time aides accused of monopolising access to the president and interfering with government personnel changes.

Park has denied the allegations, but yesterday's statement said the official roles of the three aides will now be curtailed.