South Korean President Lee Myung-bak replaced five ministers including his finance chief yesterday in an attempt to revitalize his administration before its fifth and final year in office next year.
However, hard-line Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, who oversees policy towards North Korea, kept his job despite widespread media predictions of a change.
Lee was seen as reluctant to replace Hyun for fear it would send the wrong signal to North Korea at a time of high tensions.
“This Cabinet reshuffle is aimed at breathing fresh air into the administration and creating a new working mood among officials,” presidential chief of staff Yim Tae-hee told reporters.
Lee, who is constitutionally barred from standing again, ends his single five-year term in February 2013. A general election will be held in April next year and the presidential poll in December 2012.
The reshuffle assumed extra importance after Lee’s conservative Grand National Party won only one of three by-elections it was contesting last week.
Labour Minister Bahk Jae-wan was named new finance minister, replacing Yoon Jeung-hyun.
The other new ministers were named for land and transportation, agriculture, the environment and the labor ministry to replace Bahk.
Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam, also tipped to be replaced, stayed on.
Cross-border ties worsened after Lee took office and linked major aid to progress in nuclear disarmament, a policy followed by Hyun, but detested by Pyongyang.
Relations hit their lowest ebb in a decade after the South accused the North of torpedoing one of its warships with the loss of 46 lives in March last year.
The North angrily denied responsibility, but last November shelled a frontline island, killing two South Korean civilians and two marines.