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Yoon replaces 6 ministers ahead of his 3rd year, general election

Bureaucrats, scholars nominated in 1st round; another reshuffle expected later this week

Dec. 4, 2023 - 15:35 By Son Ji-hyoung
President Yoon Suk Yeol (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol replaced six ministers on Monday, in an apparent move to set free current Cabinet members seeking to run in the April general elections and to seek fresh momentum in his leadership.

It was the biggest reshuffle of the Cabinet since Yoon's term began in May 2022, with economic affairs firmly in focus.

Yoon named Choi Sang-mok, former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, to succeed Choo Kyung-ho as the new deputy prime minister and minister of finance.

Choi, 60, was the first vice minister of economy and finance during the former conservative Park Geun-hye administration, before he joined Yoon's presidential campaign and later became senior secretary for economic affairs. Presidential chief of staff Kim Dae-ki told reporters Monday that Choi would be tasked with improving people's livelihoods by addressing inflationary pressures and unemployment.

Kang Jung-ai, the 66-year-old former president of Sookmyung Women's University, was nominated to replace Veterans Minister Park Min-shik. According to the chief of staff, Kang is a renowned scholar in the field of business administration and the descendant of a soldier who fought against North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War and of an independence fighter during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.

Agriculture Minister Chung Hwang-keun will be succeeded by Song Mi-ryung, 56, who is the former vice president of the Korea Rural Economic Institute. Yoon's office introduced Song as an expert in the field of rebalancing national economic growth.

Land Minister Won Hee-ryong is to be replaced by Park Sang-woo, 62, who is the former head of the state-run Korea Land and Housing Corp. A career bureaucrat, Park's policy focus will be on mobility innovation, according to Yoon's office.

Oceans Minister Cho Seung-hwan will be succeeded by the 53-year-old Kang Do-hyung, president of the Korean Institute of Ocean Science and Technology. Second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Oh Young-Ju was nominated to take on the role of startups and SMEs minister, a position currently held by Lee Young. Oh was the ambassador to Vietnam before returning home to take the vice-ministerial role in June.

All six nominations require parliamentary approval at confirmation hearings. South Korea has 19 ministerial-level positions.

The major reshuffle came after Yoon's decision last week to reorganize the presidential office and appoint new secretaries, effective Monday.

Yoon replaced all five senior presidential aides except for senior presidential secretary for state affairs coordination Lee Kwan-sup, who was promoted to a newly created role as the chief of staff for policy.

Yoon's new aides, including spokesperson Kim Soo-kyung and Secretary for State Affairs Monitoring Cho Sang-myung, took office Monday. Choi Jae-hyuk, former president of Jeju MBC, began to work as the new public relations planning secretary.


From top left, clockwise: Finance Minister nominee Choi Sang-mok, Veterans Minister nominee Kang Jung-ai, Agriculture Minister nominee Song Mi-ryung, Startups and SMEs Minister nominee Oh Young-ju, Oceans Minister nominee Kang Do-hyung and Land Minister nominee Park Sang-woo. (Presidential office)

Meanwhile, Yoon's approval rating has declined slightly recently, especially after Busan's landslide loss to Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh in the bid to host the World Expo in 2030.

Polling agency Realmeter's survey showed that Yoon's approval rating came to 37.6 percent, down by 0.5 percentage points from the previous week. The drop stymied two consecutive on-week increases in Yoon's approval rating.

The reshuffle was announced with general elections for the 300 seats of the National Assembly approaching on April 10, 2024. According to election rules, those in public roles must resign from their posts by no later than Jan. 11 to pursue a legislative role.

The ruling People Power Party is looking to flip several seats held by the main opposition party. Of the current 298 seats, 168 seats are held by the Democratic Party of Korea, while the People Power Party only holds 111 seats, giving the opposition a clear majority in the National Assembly.

The ruling party, however, suffered a crucial defeat in a by-election for chief of Seoul's Gangseo-gu District Office by a large margin in October. The election was considered a litmus test for voter sentiment, as it was the last popular election before April's parliamentary elections.

The Democratic Party's Jin Gyo-hoon, a former high-ranking official of the national police in the former Moon Jae-in administration, prevailed in the by-election. The People Power Party's Kim Tae-woo was seeking to regain his position after being granted a presidential pardon by Yoon on a conviction of leaking confidential information about presidential office affairs during the Moon administration as a presidential office special investigator.