South Korea approves economist as new premier


Seoul : South Korea’s National Assembly Monday approved the appointment of economist Chung Un Chan as prime minister despite protests from the opposition.

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The assembly approved Chung’s appointment by President Lee Myung Bak, thanks to the ruling conservative Grand National Party’s majority in the single house of parliament.

Opposition members walked out of the chamber at the beginning of the voting to protest the selection of the 63-year-old former Seoul National University president.

The Democratic Party, the largest opposition party, described Chung as ethically unsuitable for the job. The party accused him of reporting only a portion of his assets to the government, taking money from a businessman and avoiding mandatory military service.

Chung denied most of the allegations at a hearing before an assembly committee to judge his fitness for office.

Lee announced Chung’s nomination at the beginning of the month as part of a government shake-up.

Chung, who has criticised the government’s economic policies, is replacing Han Seung Soo as prime minister. Lee chose Chung to carry out his planned reforms and “pragmatic”, moderate policies.

“The government is relieved that the bill on his appointment was passed although there were conflicts in the process,” Park Sun Kyoo, presidential office spokesman, said in a statement.

“We believe the new prime minister will be able to improve the status of the nation while also looking after the livelihood of our citizens and playing a great role in solving issues facing the government,” he said.

Changing prime ministers in the middle of a legislative session is not unusual in South Korea, which has a presidential system, meaning the most important government decisions are made by Lee.