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Park keeps icy distance from her own party

Luncheon cancelled, meeting postponed, Yoo treated as pariah

July 03,2015
The chill between the Blue House and the ruling party continued Thursday amid growing speculation that President Park Geun-hye is cold-shouldering her own party over displeasure with its floor leader.

In the morning, Park received a group of foreign guests at the Blue House who were attending a conference of legislative leaders. Conspicuously absent was National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa, although he was originally scheduled to escort the foreigners to the presidential office.

Leaders of legislatures from Mexico, Indonesia and Australia paid a visit to Park as part of their trip to Korea for the conference of the MIKTA, an association of the five middle-sized powers - Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia - established on Seoul’s initiative in September 2013.

“A luncheon was originally scheduled, but it was replaced with a brief meeting,” said an official from Chung’s office.

A presidential aide said the luncheon had been planned but was never confirmed.

“Because of Park’s other schedules, she could not attend a luncheon that would last more than an hour, so it was changed,” he said.

A National Assembly source, however, said the office of the presidential senior secretary for foreign affairs informed Chung’s office that his attendance was undesirable.

“Chung decided not to go, because he didn’t want to be there if the president didn’t want him to be,” the source said.

Speculation grew that Park was expressing displeasure toward Chung because he has said he will use his power to reintroduce a contentious revision of the National Assembly Act for reconsideration in the National Assembly. Chung arranged a voting session for Monday and promised to address the bill as a top priority.

In May, the ruling party made a deal with the opposition to pass a revision to the law governing the legislature in return for its support of reforms of the money-losing civil servants’ pension system. Park furiously criticized the deal because it would have lessened her power over certain types of legislation. She used a presidential veto on the bill and demanded the ruling party’s floor leader, Rep. Yoo Seong-min, step down. He has not.

Chung, a former Saenuri member, decided to arrange another vote on the vetoed bill. As the Saenuri has said it will withdraw its support, the vote is unlikely to overturn the veto.

But the unresolved fate of floor leader Yoo has led to a freeze in the relationship between the Blue House and the ruling party.

Signs of Park’s disgruntlement were seen on Wednesday, as top Saenuri leaders were conspicuously missing from meetings attended by Park or concerning government affairs.

Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung was a no show at an event attended by Park on Wednesday.

Asked why he did not attend a meeting of the National Unification Advisory Council, Kim said, “I don’t have the luxury of going to an event attended by thousands of people and stay there for hours without seeing the face of the president.”

Rumors spread inside the ruling party that the Blue House asked Kim not to come.

Earlier on Wednesday, the embattled floor leader was also missing from a consultation between the party and the Park government. Although Yoo was originally scheduled to lead a discussion as counterpart of Choi Kyung-hwan, deputy prime minister for the economy and also finance minister, the party suddenly changed its plan and said that Rep. Won Yoo-chul, the chief policymaker, would stand in for Yoo.

Although Yoo and Won dismissed speculation that the Blue House wanted Yoo to stay away, sources told the JoongAng Ilbo that that was indeed the case.

The freeze is expected to continue as the ruling party agreed with the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy to hold a meeting of the House Steering Committee this morning. The committee, which deals with issues concerning the legislature and the Blue House, is chaired by Yoo.

The committee was originally scheduled to meet on Thursday, but the meeting was suddenly delayed. The Blue House denied that it asked for a delay and said Saenuri Chairman Kim made the decision.

After the committee rescheduled the meeting, Kim said the Blue House has agreed to it. Presidential Chief of Staff Lee Byung-kee is expected to attend the meeting.

One issue to be addressed at the committee is the vetoed bill to revise the National Assembly Act. It remains to be seen if the president’s demand for Yoo’s resignation will be mentioned during the meeting.

BY SER MYO-JA, LEE KA-YOUNG [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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