SEOUL – South Korean President Moon Jae-in has picked a new prime minister and replaced some key aides, in what is viewed as a last-ditch effort to win back public support after his party suffered a crushing defeat at recent by-elections.
The newly nominated head of the Cabinet is former interior minister Kim Boo-kyum, a four-term lawmaker known for his work on social reforms, forging national unity, and advocating for fairness.
Presidential chief of staff You Young-min, who announced the Cabinet reshuffle on Friday (April 16), said Mr Kim is the “right person to deal with the people’s desperate demands” for change, as evidenced by the main opposition People Power Party’s landslide victory in last week’s mayoral race for the country’s two most important cities Seoul and Busan.
The PM nominee himself vowed he will use his strengths to help the country overcome the coronavirus pandemic and help people get their lives back.
Mr Kim, 63, replaces Mr Chung Sye-kyun, who has resigned and is widely expected to run for the presidency in March next year. Mr Chung’s possible move comes after his predecessor as prime minister, Mr Lee Nak-yon, who led the party’s campaign in the recent by-elections, saw his approval rating for his presidential ambitions plunge.
Public discontent with the President and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) has grown after a recent slew of corruption, influence peddling and sex scandals that were seen as showing that Mr Moon had failed to eradicate injustice and deeply-rooted social evils as he promised in his election campaign.
President Moon, whose single five-year term will end in May next year, saw his approval rating sink to a new low of 30 per cent in the latest poll by Gallup Korea.
A separate poll, also by Gallup, showed that 55 per cent of respondents wanted an opposition candidate to win the presidential election slated for March next year, as opposed to 34 per cent supporting the ruling DP. The rest were undecided.
To win back voters, Professor Kim Jae-chun of Sogang University said there needs to be a major shift in policies and the ruling DP must also “be honest about their wrongdoings and misbehaviour, double standards and hypocrisy”.
The Cabinet reshuffle signals an effort to set things right.
Newly-nominated Land Minister Noh Hyeong-ouk is tasked with overhauling his scandal-plagued ministry and finding a way to stabilise skyrocketing property prices, while the appointment of preventive medicine professor Ki Mo-ran as the presidential secretary for disease control and prevention signals a stronger focus on the fight against Covid-19.
However, Prof Kim warned that there may not be enough time left for the Moon administration to make any substantial change in the last year of its term, and the different factions within the DP might be too caught up with an internal power struggle to determine its next presidential candidate.
Gyeonggi province governor Lee Jae-myung from the DP is a consistent hot favourite in presidential polls, but he is not part of the pro-Moon camp within the party. Mr Lee Nak-yon from the pro-Moon camp, meanwhile, saw his approval rating plunge from 40 per cent last April to a mere 5 per cent in the latest Gallup poll.
“All eyes will be on DP’s nominee for presidency,” Prof Kim said. “Will it be Lee Jae-myung or Lee Nak-yon, or newcomer Chung Sye-kyun? That will be the new talk of the town.”
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