South Korea’s president replaces PM and reshuffles cabinet in aftermath of crushing local elections defeat

President Moon Jae-in has undertaken sweeping changes to his cabinet, replacing the country’s PM and other ministers. The major reshuffle follows the crushing defeat his ruling party suffered in recent local elections.

At the cabinet overhaul, announced on Friday, Moon appointed veteran lawmaker and former interior minister Kim Boo-kyum as his new PM. The official succeeds Chung Sye-kyun, who held the top post for only 15 months.

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The new PM is expected to solidify cooperation between different political forces, as well as to handle the coronavirus situation, Moon’s chief of staff You Young-min told reporters.

“He’s a reformist and dedicated to national unity, and he also has experience of handling disasters and social crises,” You stated.

The newly appointed PM has pledged to “place greater effort towards cooperative governance, inclusion, and national unity,” and told reporters, “I won’t hesitate to ask for cooperation from the opposition party.”

The reshuffle affected other top officials as well, with the president replacing the land, labor, industry, science, and oceans ministers. The new PM and other officials are now subject to parliamentary confirmation hearings. These are largely a formality, however, as the lawmakers don’t have powers block the president’s appointments if he decides to press them.

The overhaul comes just about a week after Moon’s ruling liberal Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat during special local elections. The polls were held to fill vacant positions, including mayoral posts in the capital, Seoul, as well as the country’s second-largest city, Busan.

The Democratic Party suffered defeat in the contest for both key mayoral posts, as well as in most of the lesser constituencies. Candidates from the opposition conservative People Power Party became mayors of both Seoul and Busan.

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South Korea is heading towards presidential elections, set to take place in March 2022. The country has only a single five-year presidential term, and while Moon himself may not have to worry about his re-election prospects, the local elections fiasco signals there’s a rough ride ahead for his party.

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