President Kim Dae-jung picked South Korea's first female prime minister yesterday and replaced six other ministers in a reshuffle seen as a bid to boost the government's image before December presidential polls.
The appointment of Prime Minister Chang Sang, a Princeton-educated former university dean, at the top of a list of largely non-politician technocrats was designed to restore faith in Kim's administration after a spate of scandals.
South Korea's 48 million people will elect a successor to the 77-year-old Kim on Dec. 19. He is barred by the Constitution from seeking a second five-year term.
The chief presidential secretary said Chang, a 62-year-old theologian from outside Kim's party, replaced veteran politician Lee Han-dong in the largely ceremonial prime minister's job.
The defense minister, criticized over last month's naval clash with North Korea, was also replaced in the reshuffle of the 18-member Cabinet.
"This reshuffle chose reformist persons with expertise to raise the stability and efficiency of governance in accordance with the public's wishes," the chief presidential secretary, Park Jie-won, told reporters.
Both ruling and opposition parties and a vocal South Korean media had called for a non-partisan, technocratic Cabinet ahead of both the presidential election and by-elections next month for 13 members of parliament that could give the opposition outright control of the National Assembly.
Seoul's financial markets ignored the Cabinet overhaul, which left Kim's economic team unchanged. Ministers in charge of foreign policy and ties with North Korea also remained in place.