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Relations to shift with Kim as new Saenuri chair

‘Making concessions is inevitable, and it is the ruling party that should make concessions first.’

July 16,2014
Just one day after he was elected to the ruling party’s most senior post, Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung was invited by President Park Geun-hye to a luncheon yesterday at the Blue House, where he reportedly told the president that she and the party “are in the same boat.”

President Park congratulated the 63-year-old lawmaker on his victory this week, when he smoothly defeated his rival Suh Chung-won, a core pro-Park member who ran on the promise of providing the president with the utmost support. At the closed luncheon, she also asked the new party leadership to thoroughly cooperate and work with the Blue House.

“The second Cabinet is about to launch, and it’s good timing for the new party leadership to [along with the new cabinet] work with each other from the beginning,” said the president, who also asked that Kim and other newly elected Saenuri supreme council members help carry out major societal and economic reforms.

“I told her, like I said in my acceptance speech, that we are all in the same boat no matter how harsh the rain and wind,” Kim told reporters yesterday after a party meeting at the National Assembly. “And I will do my best to serve the president.”

Park’s meeting with Kim and other Saenuri leaders came a day after the ruling party convention on Monday, in which the five-term politician was elevated to the chairmanship, its most powerful position.

Though only congratulatory and kind words were exchanged between the two, it is expected that the new ruling party leadership will raise more demands, and even opposition, to the way the Blue House is leading the country.

Kim previously expressed his disapproval over the way the Saenuri unquestioningly followed the guidance of the presidential office under former party Chairman Hwang Woo-yea, calling it “too passive,” and vowed to let his demands be known.

A day after his election, Kim did not hesitate to let his frustrations with the Blue House show in a media interview.

“Many people worked hard for Park to win the presidency [in 2012]. But a small circle of people [around the president] monopolized that power only for themselves and [falsely] branded people outside that circle as non-pro Park faction members,” Kim said in a surprisingly blunt tone in a telephone interview with the local daily Munhwa Ilbo.

He added that such a monopoly gave the president an inaccurate sense of the public’s declining sentiment. “I feel deeply saddened and enraged [by that],” he said.

The election of Kim and four other senior party leaders at the Monday convention signals an impending shift in the way the ruling party will work and communicate with the Blue House, which many political observers see as a potential handicap for the presidential office.

Of the five senior members elected, including Kim, Suh was the only pro-Park member among the winning candidates. The seven-term lawmaker campaigned on the promise of throwing his utmost support behind the Park government.

President Park’s surprise visit to the convention on Monday was seen by some as her tactical endorsement of Suh, who within the party is nicknamed “the godfather of the pro-Park faction.”

It was the first time in six years the ruling party has had a president pay a visit to its convention - following President Lee Myung-bak’s appearance in 2008 in the first year of his term.

The fact that Kim beat out Suh by more than 10,000 votes, or 8.1 percent, has left the Saenuri members supportive of the president with little room to raise their voices against him. Kim is nicknamed “Captain Moo,” a reference to his strong leadership skills, and is considered a likely presidential contender in the 2017 election.

The demise of pro-Park members within the Saenuri’s leadership comes when President Park is just 17 months into her term and has more than three years remaining in office. By this point in past administrations, the Blue House has generally continued to hold a tight grip over the ruling party.

“President Park slowly entered lame duck mode following the Sewol sinking. And that was made apparent [twice], in the election of the National Assembly speaker [in which Chung Ui-hwa, a non-pro Park group member, was selected] and in Kim Moo-sung taking the helm of the party,” said Lee Jun-han, a political science professor at Incheon National University. “With Kim’s election, the lame duck period for Park will only accelerate as he pursues his own brand of politics.”

Kim was a Park supporter during the 2007 presidential election campaign, though she was later defeated by Lee Myung-bak in the primary.

Kim, however, deviated from Park loyalists when he openly objected to Park’s firm support for transforming Sejong into a special administrative city during the Lee government.

Many observers believe Kim’s departure from the pro-Park faction cost him the nomination in the 2012 general elections on grounds that he had shifted his alliance toward Lee.

However, the party rehired Kim to head its presidential campaign in December 2012, and nominated him in a by-election the following year, which he won.

Other than working to raise the stature of his party, Kim said in a radio interview with MBC yesterday that he would make concessions with the opposition to achieve national goals. “Politics is the work of reaching an agreement from the beginning to the end. To reach an agreement, making concessions is inevitable, and it is the ruling party that should make concessions first,” he said.

Kim demonstrated his ability to work with the major opposition last December, when he struck a deal with the labor union of the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) and the Democratic Party, the precursor of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, to bring an end to a 23-day strike, the longest railway walkout in Korea’s history. Kim’s role in breaking the impasse drew praise from the opposition, who then saw him as a politician with whom they could work.

The first test of Kim’s leadership will be the outcome of the July 30 by-elections, in which 15 districts are up for grabs nationwide. The political stakes loom large now that the Saenuri commands the loyalty of 147 lawmakers, three seats short of carrying a majority in the 299-member Assembly.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr ]






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