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S. Korean prime minister bids farewell after 10 months in office

All Headlines 14:15 August 11, 2010

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Aug. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's prime minister, once courted by both ruling and opposition parties as a presidential hopeful, stepped down Wednesday after 10 months of bitter political experience.

Chung Un-chan offered to resign in late July, holding himself responsible for the government's failure to get parliamentary approval for a bill to scrap a new administrative town project south of Seoul.

He has been a top supporter of President Lee Myung-bak's push to revise the previous government's plan to relocate half of its ministries to the new administrative town of Sejong, which is under construction in central South Korea.

"I will now leave the prime ministerial post and return to a normal life as a Korean citizen," Chung said in a farewell ceremony, attended by Cabinet ministers as well as rank-and-file public officials.

"Wherever I go and whatever I do, I will keep playing the role of a balancer trying to settle dispute between different generations, social classes and ideologies," the outgoing prime minister said.

Chung's tough political life began in September 2009 when he was named the second prime minister for the Lee administration.

The former president of prestigious Seoul National University was then a rising star often mentioned as a potential presidential hopeful. His political debut as a prime minister was taken as a surprise because he has long been an open critic of the government's economic policies. With clean, upright and humble images as a lifetime scholar, he rose as a symbol of Lee's "mid-way pragmatism." He is a native of Gongju, South Chungcheong Province, where the new administrative town is under construction.

Chung's political life was full of ordeals, capped by his unsuccessful bid to persuade the parliament to change the plan on government office relocation.

He visited his home province of Chungcheong more than 10 times in attempts to gain the support of the provincial residents as well as opposition parties and a ruling party faction, only to face chilly responses.

The prime minister came under pressure to step down after the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the left-leaning Democratic Party (DP) in local elections in June. The results were a blow to Lee's efforts to rally popular support for his ambitious plans, including the Sejong City project.

The electoral failure was followed by the National Assembly's decision not to approve the revised Sejong City plan later that month.

"The 10-month period was too short for me, and South Korea's political landscape was too rough," Chung said in a speech announcing his resignation on July 29.

sshim@yna.co.kr
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