President Of South Korea names female ruling party lawmaker new prime minister

South Korea's president on Friday nominated former Environment Minister Han Myung-sook to be prime minister, setting the stage for her to become the first woman to hold the government's No. 2 spot.

President Roh Moo-hyun asked the National Assembly to swiftly confirm his appointment so that Han, 62, could begin handling state affairs. Most power is concentrated in the president's office, but the prime minister handles much of South Korea's domestic affairs.

"President Roh expects the nominee to resolve major state affairs in a stable ... manner through soft leadership and strong policy implementation," the presidential office said in a press release.

The nomination came a week after Lee Hae-chan stepped down as prime minister following strong public and opposition criticism for playing golf rather than overseeing the government's response to a railway strike on a national holiday on March 1.

The National Assembly was expected to hold a confirmation hearing soon.

The ruling Uri party holds 143 seats in the 297-member National Assembly, while the main opposition Grand National Party has 126 seats. The rest are minor parties and independent lawmakers.

The Grand National Party, which could block the nomination through parliamentary maneuvering, has demanded that Han resign from the Uri party in order to take the premier's post.

Lee Jae-oh, the GNP floor leader, suggested that his party could boycott the confirmation hearing unless the nominee severs her ties with the Uri Party to ensure impartiality in nationwide mayoral and gubernatorial elections in May, said Yonhap news agency.

Han, however, said she was not considering quitting the party, said Yonhap.

Han is not the first woman nominated to the position.

However, the previous female nominee, Chang Sang, failed to be confirmed in 2002. The former president of Ewha Womans University faced accusations over real estate speculation and the misrepresentation of her academic background.

Han is a two-term lawmaker who was minister of gender equality and family under former President Kim Dae-jung, and previously served as environment minister under Roh.

The prime minister has in the past been seen as a largely ceremonial position.

But it has taken on greater importance now that Roh has delegated much of authority to the prime minister on domestic affairs. His approval ratings have slid to record lows after a failed attempt to form a grand coalition with the opposition and a stall in the country's economy.

Roh took office in 2003 and is constitutionally barred from running again, but last month he suggested that even the single five-year term for the country's president might be "a little too long", reports the AP.


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