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S. Korea Parliament Rejects President's Choice for Prime Minister - 2002-07-31

South Korea's Parliament has blocked the appointment of what would have been the country's first female prime minister. The move is seen as damaging to President Kim Dae-jung, who has seven months left in office.

Ms. Chang, a 63-year-old theologian, was rejected by a vote of 142-100 after a two day hearing in which opposition lawmakers accused her of perjury.

During the hearing, Ms. Chang tried to defend herself against allegations she exaggerated her academic credentials, engaged in real estate speculation and helped her son acquire U.S. citizenship to avoid military service.

President Kim Dae-jung appointed her as part of a cabinet reshuffle, bringing a roar of approval from women's groups across the country. Political analysts say he had hoped to promote gender equality in South Korea's male-dominated political circles before elections in August and December.

Andrew Pratt, an analyst with the Industrial Research Consultancy in Seoul, says Parliament's rejection will further damage Mr. Kim's public standing. The president, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his engagement policy toward North Korea, is under pressure because of corruption scandals involving his family and close aides, though he himself has not been implicated.

"It was a face-saving exercise, so yes it is embarrassing that even in a facesaving exercise he cannot get someone elected," he said. "This probably will not have much effect on laws going through Parliament because they probably were not going to go through anyway. Perhaps it is a further slap or whittling away of whatever [of President Kim's] prestige remains."

Mr. Pratt says the veto could seriously hamper Mr. Kim's authority and predicts growing tensions between the ruling Millennium Democratic Party and the main opposition Grand National Party in the run-up to December's presidential balloting.