South Korea president names new prime minister nominee

South Korean Prime minister-designate Lee Wan Koo, who's a floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, speaking during a press conference after being designated by President Park Geun Hye at the National Assembly Building in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan
South Korean Prime minister-designate Lee Wan Koo, who's a floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, speaking during a press conference after being designated by President Park Geun Hye at the National Assembly Building in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (REUTERS/AFP) - South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Friday has nominated for prime minister a political veteran and the current parliamentary floor leader of her ruling Saenuri Party, the presidential Blue House said.

She named Mr Lee Wan Koo, 64, to the post of prime minister to improve government administration and to make a fresh start as she starts her third year of a single five-year term, Ms Park's chief public affairs secretary Yoon Doo Hyun said.

Ms Park’s approval rating has fallen sharply this month, plunging from 43 per cent on Jan 9 to an all-time low of 34 per cent on Thursday, posing a growing threat to the government’s drive to resuscitate the country’s sluggish economy as data on Friday showed growth in Asia's fourth-largest economy slowed to its weakest in six years in the last quarter of 2014.

She has also failed so far to engage North Korea in dialogue despite expressing a willingness last week to meet with the North's leader Kim Jong Un for a summit.

Ms Park has previously tried to replace her Prime Minister Chung Hong Won, who resigned to take responsibility for a ferry disaster in April last year, but retained him after two nominees withdrew under controversy over personal issues.

Mr Lee began public service as an official at the Finance Ministry in the 1970s and worked in the police force rising to become a provincial police commissioner. He also served as a provincial governor and is a three-term member of parliament.

He is credited with working with the parliamentary opposition to pass reform bills including measures to prevent disasters such as the sinking of the ferry in April that killed 304 passengers, mostly school children.

The decline in Ms Park's popularity accelerated after she rejected calls from critics to let go of three long-time aides accused of monopolising access to the president and interfering with government personnel changes.Ms Park has denied the allegations, however Friday’s statement said that the official roles of the three aides will now be curtailed.Ms Park’s support base has also been undermined by a recent public backlash against changes in tax codes that apparently resulted in more levies on the middle class.

She faces mounting attacks that her government has idled away two years of its five-year term as the country is dogged by a slowing economy, growing gaps between the rich and the poor, high youth unemployment and lingering tensions with the nuclear-armed North Korea.