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Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010
Second half of the Lee presidency
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, who passed the halfway point of his five-year term on Aug. 25, hoped to bolster his political foundation with the start of a new Cabinet to be headed by a man who would be the first prime minister in his 40s (47) in 39 years. But his hope was shattered Sunday when his prime minister nominee and two Cabinet minister nominees announced their withdrawal from the approval process in the national parliament.
In July, Mr. Lee overhauled the staff at the Blue House. Among his new aides is Mr. Yim Tae Hee, former labor minister, who became chief of staff. The same month, the ruling Grand National Party elected Mr. Ahn Sang Soo, a loyalist of Mr. Lee, new party chairman. On Aug. 8, Mr. Lee named Kim Tae Ho, former governor of South Gyeonsang province, as new prime minister and replaced seven other ministers in the biggest Cabinet reshuffle since he came to power in later February 2008.
These changes represented Mr. Lee's attempt to shore up his administration for the second half of his term. Although the ruling party won five of eight parliamentary by-elections on July 28, it had suffered a crushing defeat in the June 2 local elections. Mr. Lee's party, which had held 11 of the 16 mayoral and gubernatorial posts, won only six while the opposition Democratic Party won seven of the 16 races.
Mr. Kim withdrew over suspected irregularities in his personal financial dealings. Mr. Shin Jae Min, nominated as culture minister, and Mr. Lee Jae Hoon, nominated as knowledge economy minister, also withdrew over suspected money-related irregularities.
President Lee has been criticized for his political style of skipping the consensus-building process. His hardline stance against North Korea after the March 26 sinking of a Korean corvette, which killed 46 sailors, invited opposition from young people. The president faces the difficult task of dissolving long-standing conflicts embedded in South Korean society — between the left and right, the older and younger generations, the rich and poor, and different regions.