The 52-year-old became the fourth prime minister who successfully passed the confirmation hearing and the floor vote since the unicameral Assembly introduced an endorsement system for the No. 2 job in the administration in 2000. The hearing has been considered a trial by fire for its efforts to find flaws in candidates' morality. As a result, two of the five candidates tapped by ex-president Kim Dae-jung failed to win the floor vote.
The premiership has been considered a nominal post under the strong presidential system, but Roh had promised to change the tradition, giving his first aide much wider authorities in government affairs. Prior to the floor vote, the Uri Party held a caucus and decided to vote in favor of Lee, saying the two-day confirmation hearing last week could not find grave faults in Lee as a prime minister.
The leadership of the opposition Grand National Party (GNP), which had already decided to allow its lawmakers to make up their minds individually, did not openly object to Lee's rise to the premiership either. Some of the GNP legislators, however, urged colleagues to vote against Lee, arguing that the education policies which Lee designed under the Kim government were the cause of the current crisis in public education, but their voice failed to get support from within the conservative party.
The democracy-activist-turned politician served as education minister from 1998 to 2000. At the time, criticism against Lee reached a peak when he reduced the retirement age of teachers from 65 to 62. Many of the 10 lawmakers of the left-leaning Democratic Labor Party (DLP) were guessed to have voted against Lee's endorsement due to his support for the government's plan for an additional troop dispatch to Iraq.
Roh initially tapped Kim Hyuck-kyu, former governor of South Gyeongsang Province, but later dropped the idea largely due to strong objections from the GNP. Kim defected from the opposition party prior to the April 15 general elections and joined the Uri Party, making the GNP openly denounce Kim as a "traitor" alleging he moved to the ruling camp in return for the post of prime minister.
/ By Korea Times