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South Korea Parliament Makes Lee Prime Minister


Parliament approves Lee as prime minister

The National Assembly approved reformist lawmaker Lee Hai-chan as prime minister on Tuesday (June 29), signaling the real beginning for political and social changes in Korea.

The approval also paved the way for a Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday that will affect the unification, health and welfare and culture ministries.

The 299-member 17th parliament held a plenary session to endorse President Roh Moo-hyun's prime ministerial choice by 200 to 84. Ten lawmakers abstained and five votes were invalid.

A fifth-term lawmaker of the ruling Uri Party, Lee is the second prime minister to work with the president. The first, Goh Kun, resigned last month after Roh resumed his presidential duties following a failed attempt by the former opposition-controlled parliament to impeach him.

Political observers say no glitches were found in the 53-year-old politician's ability to manage state affairs and his moral character during two days of parliamentary confirmation hearings last week on his appointment.

Lee, a former education minister and seasoned politician, is expected to bring a fresh wave of political and social reforms to the nation since he has pushed through what he saw as a necessary but highly unpopular agenda during his career.

His first task as the nation's No. 2 person is to recommend three ministerial candidates to Roh. Persistent speculation is that former Uri Chairman Chung Dong-young will become unification minister, former Uri floor leader Kim Geun-tae health and welfare minister and Uri Rep. Chung Dong-chae culture minister.

The foremost priority is to reorganize Korea's security and diplomatic system, which is facing the most serious crisis yet following the beheading of Korean hostage Kim Sun-il last week by Islamic militants in Iraq.

Lee needs to win over the majority of Koreans opposed to the planned troop dispatch to Iraq. He says Korean soldiers need better arms in Iraq to defend themselves against possible terrorist attacks.

Political analysts expect Lee will take the lead in trying to resolve these disputes, rather than remaining simply a figurehead who receives and carries out presidential orders uncritically.

He will also emerge, experts believe, as the main coordinator between the presidential office and the ruling party, which have recently been engaged in a war of nerves over a number of issues.

Having fought for democracy during Korea's past military governments in the 1980s, he served four years in jail before entering politics in 1988 as a member of the National Assembly.

Rather than being a popular political face, Lee was largely a strategist, controlling party policies behind the scenes.

He was born in Cheongyang County, South Chungcheong Province, and graduated from Seoul National University.

At Tuesday's plenary session, lawmakers also voted on whether to approve the arrest of GNP Rep. Park Chang-dal on charges of violating election laws, the first vote of its kind since the 17th parliament opened.


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