To repair image, GNP elects Ahn as new chairman

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To repair image, GNP elects Ahn as new chairman

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Ahn Sang-soo, former floor leader of the Grand National Party and a key loyalist of President Lee Myung-bak, waves the ruling party’s flag yesterday after he was elected chairman at a national party convention held at the Jamsil Gymnasium in southern Seoul. [NEWSIS]


Representative Ahn Sang-soo, former floor leader of the Grand National Party and a key loyalist of President Lee Myung-bak, was elected the ruling party’s new chairman at a national convention yesterday.

Representatives Hong Joon-pyo, Na Kyung-won, Chung Doo-un and Suh Byung-soo were also elected as the new members of the Supreme Council, tasked to revamp the ruling party in the aftermath of its crushing defeat in last month’s local elections.

Lee loyalists prevailed in the race against supporters of former GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye, giving the president a stronger grip on his party during the second half of his term. The top four winners - Ahn, Hong, Na and Chung - are pro-Lee lawmakers, while Suh, who finished fifth in the race, was the only Park loyalist elected.

The immediate job of the new leadership is improving the party’s image ahead of the July 28 by-elections. With a two-year tenure, the new leadership will also manage the nominations and campaigns for the 2012 legislative elections and the primary for the December 2012 presidential election.

Mending the rift between pro-Lee and pro-Park factions is another important task for the GNP leadership because factional strife has hobbled Lee’s key agenda. The problem was so severe that GNP floor leader Kim Moo-sung said at the national convention yesterday that “Lee and Park must meet as soon as possible and open up their minds to each other for true reconciliation.”

To no one’s surprise, reconciliation within the party was the key word in Ahn’s acceptance speech. “Starting today, there will be no pro-Park faction and pro-Lee faction,” Ahn said. “The Grand National Party will achieve reconciliation and unity internally first and win the July 28 by-elections.”

A native of Masan, South Gyeongsang, Ahn studied law at Seoul National University. He passed the bar exam in 1975 and worked as a prosecutor at the Jeonju, Daegu, Masan and Seoul prosecution offices. Shortly after investigating the police’s brutal torture and subsequent death of student activist Park Jong-cheol, an incident which prompted the nationwide democracy movement in June 1987, Ahn left the prosecution to become a human rights lawyer.

In 1996, Ahn joined the New Korea Party, the predecessor of the Grand National Party, and was elected a lawmaker. He was re-elected three more times. Throughout his legislative career, Ahn has made the best of his investigative and interrogation talents at parliamentary hearings and probes of high profile corruption scandals.

During the last presidential election, Ahn was co-chairman of Lee’s central campaign headquarters. Ahn also served as floor leader of the Grand National Party twice, from 2007 to 2008 and from 2009 to 2010.

At the national convention, which began at 1 p.m. at Jamsil Gymnasium in southeastern Seoul, 7,819 out of the 9,047 Grand National delegates cast ballots for the 11 candidates. Each delegate cast two ballots, which accounted for 70 percent of the outcome. A public opinion poll of non-party members counted for 30 percent.

Ahn, who won the most points, was named chairman. He can name two members of the Supreme Council in addition to the four elected yesterday. The seat in the council earmarked for a woman was given to Na.

According to the GNP, Ahn won 4,316 votes, or 20.3 percent of the total, of which 3,021 votes came from the delegates. Hong came second, winning 3,854 votes in total. Na won a total of 2,882, while Chung won 2,436 and Suh 1,924.

While Ahn won the most votes from delegates, Na got the greatest backing from the opinion polls, indicating her popularity outside the party. Her popularity in the opinion poll contributed to her winning third place.

Hong, also a four-term lawmaker and former GNP floor leader who was the strongest competitor to Ahn, beat him in the opinion poll.

The opposition Democratic Party welcomed the election of a new GNP leadership in anticipation of more cooperation in the legislature. DP spokesman Woo Sang-ho, however, said that smear campaigns during the race were a setback for Korea’s politics.

In another development, the GNP and a splinter political party formed by Park supporters, Future and Hope United, announced a merger at the national convention.

In 2008, a group of pro-Park loyalists bolted the GNP after they failed to win nominations for legislative elections. With yesterday’s merger, the GNP has 176 lawmakers in the 299-seat National Assembly.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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