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Politics

South Korea's Moon shuffles cabinet pack after heavy poll defeats

President picks Kim Boo-kyum as new prime minister; 5 other changes

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has less than a year left to boost his party's fortunes before next March's general elections.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- A week after his ruling party lost mayoral elections in South Korea's two biggest cities, President Moon Jae-in shuffled his cabinet in a bid to lift his approval ratings from a record low.

Moon appointed former interior minister Kim Boo-kyum as his new prime minister on Friday. Kim, who comes from the conservative Yeongnam region, will replace Chung Sye-kyun after getting approval from the National Assembly. Chung, a former Assembly speaker, is expected to run for the presidency next year.

"Kim is the right person to resolve many issues that people raised in the previous elections. We expect that he will work hard to normalize daily life [amid the pandemic], boost a flagging economy and narrow social disparities," Yoo Young-min, Moon's chief of staff, said at a news conference.

The presidential Blue House said that Kim, 63, is a lifelong politician who is committed to overcoming regional divides, and tackling social problems.

Moon also switched his science, industry, labor, land and oceans ministers.

Disappointed with his housing and economic policies, Moon's support rate fell to a fresh low of 30% in a Gallup Korea poll this week. Moon is coming toward the final year of his presidency, a time when the ratings of South Korean leaders traditionally fall. He cannot run again because presidents are limited to a single five-year term, and his successor will be chosen in a general election next March.

Analysts say that Moon chose Kim to retain moderate voters who turned against the ruling Democratic Party in the mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan last week.

"Kim is a moderate figure in the DP. Moon may want to get moderate voters back with the appointment," said Park Sung-min, a senior political analyst and head of Min Consulting.

However, he was skeptical whether Moon and the ruling party will get a bump because the role of prime minister is limited in South Korea.

"I am doubtful that the appointment is the start of change, because the prime minister is more like a symbolic figure rather than having any real power."

Candidates from Moon's left-leaning party lost in the two biggest cities because people were unhappy with issues such as corruption and his administration's attempts to deal with soaring housing prices.

Lim Hye-suk, chairperson of National Research Council of Science & Technology, was named as the new science minister. Lim is a female engineer who has pioneered new ways in the telecommunications sector.

Moon Sung-wook, appointed as new industry minister, is a lifelong bureaucrat who has spent most of his career at the ministry, working in the industry, trade and energy sectors.

Ahn Kyung-deok was appointed as labor minister, while Noh Hyung-wook was chosen to be land minister. Vice Oceans Minister Park Joon-young will be promoted as minister.

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