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Speculation increases over a presidential rift

Saenuri chairman’s contradicting opinions give rise to questions

Oct 23,2014

Signs of a rift between President Park Geun-hye and ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung, who was once her close aide, have surfaced in recent days, raising questions over how the two will work together to unload a package of policies pushed by the Blue House.

A possible clash between the two became apparent when a senior Blue House official on Tuesday criticized a rare public apology Kim issued to the president. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, argued that the Saenuri leader’s statement lacked sincerity and that his actions were intentional.

On Friday, Kim apologized to President Park for a remark he made last week during a trip to China. Standing before reporters on Oct. 16 in Shanghai, the ruling Saenuri chairman said there would be an outpouring of discussion among lawmakers over calls to amend the Constitution once the current parliamentary session ends in December.

However, he reversed his position the next day and expressed his regrets to the president for stirring up commotion on the issue. Kim further stressed in his statement that he had no intention to engage in a “head-on collision” with the president.

The potential revision, urged by some 150 lawmakers, would see the president’s power greatly reduced. Among the proposals for the constitutional amendment being floated in discussions and promoted by Kim is a semi-presidential system in which the president is elected by universal suffrage and endowed with considerable powers, while the prime minister would run the government and be subject to a vote of confidence in the National Assembly. Another proposal is to adopt a U.S.-style presidential system in which a second term is allowed.

Still, the anonymous Blue House source told reporters at the presidential office on Tuesday that he believed Kim was acutely aware that his comments would be publicized, especially with the media present.

The Saenuri chairman’s remarks have caught many in the political sphere off guard and are thought to have raised the ire of the president for directly contradicting her position on an amendment.

Park has made her stance against the constitutional revision clear, referring to it on Oct. 6 as a “black hole” that would suck up the time and energy needed to pass what she described as more pressing bills, such as those related to economic improvement.

A constitutional amendment was one of Park’s presidential promises.

The difference of opinion has raised speculation that there could be further discord, however, despite Kim’s apology. Those conjectures were only reinforced yesterday when Kim said that the timing for reforming the pension system for government employees was of less importance than seeing to it that the overhaul actually happen.

“We all agree that there is a need to reform the civil servant pension system. But it is more important that we actually carry out the change, than when we do it,” he said yesterday at the National Assembly.

The presidential office, meanwhile, has stated that it would like to pass a bill for the system’s reform by the end of the year so that lawmakers will be largely free from the repercussions of its passage, with no major elections slated for 2015. The Blue House appears to have been open about its dissatisfaction with Kim since it became clear that his defiant remarks could potentially be part of a bigger strategy to cement his position as a front-runner for the ruling party in the 2017 presidential election.

Kim is seen by many within and outside of the National Assembly to be actively ramping up his preparations to run. Kim’s one-on-one meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week in Beijing was also widely interpreted as part of his efforts to secure the image of a viable front-runner.

Still, the apparent disharmony seen between Park and Kim recently has not taken political observers completely off guard. The two have openly been at odds before on policies and strategy.

Kim deviated from the pro-Park faction in 2009 when he opposed her plans to turn Sejong into a special administrative city.

Some theorize that Kim lost the party nomination in the 2012 general election as a direct result of his distance from Park. He returned to parliament in the by-election the following year and managed to secure the Saenuri chairmanship in July.


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



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