Lee faces election backlash within his own party

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Lee faces election backlash within his own party

President Lee Myung-bak faced escalating pressure from his own party to swiftly fire top aides to dampen public anger at his administration and party.

Minbon 21, a group of first-term, reform-minded lawmakers inside the ruling Grand National Party, held a press conference yesterday to demand a revamp of the administration and party leadership in the aftermath of last week’s defeat in local elections. The 14-member group specifically targeted Lee’s senior secretaries for failing to understand the nation’s political mood.

“If the Blue House fails to satisfy our expectation, we will step up our action,” Representative Hwang Young-cheul said. “The current crisis was already foreseen when the GNP lost last year’s by-elections. At the time, Minbon 21 failed to respond properly, so this time, we will not step back.”

Asked if the reshuffle includes the replacement of three top presidential senior secretaries - Park Heong-joon (for political affairs), Kwon Jae-jin (for civil affairs) and Lee Dong-kwan (for public affairs) - Hwang said, “most definitely,” adding that they must be replaced as soon as possible.

Hwang also said the GNP’s defeat was a public censure of a high-handed attitude at the Blue House and in the ruling party, and the reformist lawmakers are startled to see the party ignoring that problem. “That will only bring about more rage and disappointment in the people,” Hwang said. “It is time for us to act to correct the situation.”

In addition to the secretariat reshuffle, Hwang demanded an equal relationship between the presidential office and the party, asking for no more Blue House intervention in party affairs.

According to Representative Kwon Young-jin, the next step will be a demand for a cabinet reshuffle.

The Blue House was apparently displeased. “Lee feels very upset that the party and his aides are sniping at each other, although they are on the same side,” a senior presidential aide said. “Such pressure to fire his aides is making Lee hesitant to reshuffle.”

Another official said the party was primarily responsible for the nominations in the elections and the campaigns, and complained that the lawmakers were unreasonably blaming the Blue House for the defeat.

The fate of Lee’s Sejong City revision plan was also discussed by the young lawmakers’ group. Kwon said the lawmakers agreed that Lee should give up his designs to revise the Sejong plan. “Our defeat in the Chungcheong region speaks for everything,” he said. “If we push the revision at this point, the people will think we are nuts.”

Lee has proposed that a plan by the late former President Roh Moo-hyun to make Sejong City a new government center for South Korea be scaled back to create a business, science and education hub.

His bill to revise Roh’s plan is stuck in the National Assembly. The Sejong development is a lightning rod issue between the opposition - including Roh loyalists - and Lee’s GNP.

In a separate press conference, a mayor and governors-elect of the Chungcheong region demanded Lee to give up his revision plan.

In front of the Sejong City construction office in South Chungcheong, Daejeon Mayor-elect Yum Hong-chul, South Chungcheong Governor-elect An Hee-jung and North Chungcheong Govenor-elect Lee Si-jong jointly addressed the media, demanding Lee give up his revision plan.

The Blue House did not officially respond to the press conference, but some senior presidential aides admitted earlier that the revision bill had lost its momentum after the local election defeat.

By Ser Myo-ja, Seo Seung-wook [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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