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Politics

Moon names seasoned economic hand as South Korea's prime minister

President banks on Chung Sye-kyun to boost fortunes ahead of general election

South Korea President Moon Jae-in, right, named former National Assembly speaker Chung Sye-kyun as prime minister. (Nikkei Montage/ Source photos by Getty Images and Reuters)

SEOUL -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday appointed former National Assembly speaker Chung Sye-kyun as prime minister, banking on the businessman-turned-politician to breathe life into the economy ahead of April's general election.

Moon said that the six-term lawmaker is the right person to replace Lee Nak-yon, who will return to Moon's ruling Democratic Party to lead its election campaign. Lee is expected to run as the party's candidate for the presidency in 2022.

"First of all, Chung knows the economy very well. He was a successful businessman and paved the way for $300 billion of exports as industry minister at the Participation [Roh Moo-hyun] government," Moon said in a televised news conference.

In South Korea, the prime minister holds the second position after the president in cabinet and acts as the chief adviser to the head of state. The prime minister is first in order of succession to serve as acting president, which happened in 2016 during the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye.

The appointment, subject to the ratification from the assembly, comes as the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party seeks to regain the 300-seat legislature by attacking the country's lackluster economic performance under Moon. Failure by Moon's Democrats to retain the house could frustrate the president's plans for the second half of his single five-year term.

Chung, an executive at the Ssangyong conglomerate before entering politics in 1995, said he accepted the offer to serve people during a difficult period.

"I feel huge responsibility," Chung said at news conference. "I will focus on reviving the economy and integrating people."

The country's economy is expected to grow around 2% this year, down from 2.7% a year ago. The trade war between the U.S. and China, South Korea's two biggest trade partners, has led to slowdowns in exports and investments.

Park Sung-min, head of Min Consulting in Seoul, the appointment shows that Moon wants to show that he was focused on the economy.

But Park added that naming a former speaker as prime minister may undermine the separation of powers. "Previously, some party leaders became ministers at the cabinet, but it is much more serious problem."

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