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South Korean lawmakers approve President Park's pick for prime minister despite questions

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea's ruling party-controlled legislature on Monday approved President Park Geun-hye's choice for prime minister following fierce political wrangling over whether he's fit for the country's No. 2 job.

The unicameral National Assembly approved the appointment of Lee Wan Koo in a 148-128 vote Monday. Five lawmakers abstained, according to parliamentary officials.

PHOTO: South Korean lawmakers attend to pass a confirmation of President Park Geun-hye's nomination of Lee Wan Koo as the country's prime minister during the plenary session at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. South Korea’s ruling party-controlled legislature on Monday approved Park’s choice for prime minister following fierce political wrangling over whether he’s fit for the country’s No. 2 job. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean lawmakers attend to pass a confirmation of President Park Geun-hye's nomination of Lee Wan Koo as the country's prime minister during the plenary session at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. South Korea’s ruling party-controlled legislature on Monday approved Park’s choice for prime minister following fierce political wrangling over whether he’s fit for the country’s No. 2 job. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Outgoing Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered to resign shortly after a ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people last April to take responsibility for the disaster, but two possible replacements abandoned their nominations because of questions over past behavior, forcing Park to retain him.

Lee, a senior ruling party lawmaker, has faced a string of allegations relating to real estate speculation, plagiarism, draft-dodging involving him and one of his sons and other questionable past behavior. What cornered him the most was the disclosure of a recorded recent conversation with some reporters in which he bragged about his influence on private media companies to get them to spike articles critical of him and give unfavorable treatment to journalists he dislikes.

Liberal opposition lawmakers demanded his resignation, but they stopped short of trying to disrupt or boycott a floor vote, apparently out of concerns about possible public backlash. Outnumbered opposition lawmakers in South Korea have occasionally resorted to such measures when they want to block or protest against the passage of certain bills.

South Korea's executive power is concentrated in the president, but the prime minister leads the country if the president becomes incapacitated.

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