Saenuri forges ahead with primary

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Saenuri forges ahead with primary

The Saenuri Party yesterday launched a 13-member primary management committee to select the ruling party¡¯s candidate for the December presidential election.

But three presidential hopefuls are still insisting the primary be opened to the public at large, regardless of party affiliation.

The Supreme Council of the Saenuri Party yesterday held a meeting in Jeonju, North Jeolla, and approved a plan to launch the committee. The party leadership agreed to have further discussions with three presidential contenders who have protested its current primary rules.

Complaining that the current rules favor the party¡¯s former chairwoman Park Geun-hye, other presidential contenders have demanded for weeks an open primary. Representatives Lee Jae-oh and Chung Mong-joon and Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo issued an ultimatum over the weekend, threatening to boycott the primary unless the party changes its rules.

Currently, the ruling party's nominee is decided by a combination of party delegate votes (which accounts for 20 percent of a candidate's final score), party member voting (30 percent), voting open to the general public (30 percent) and opinion polls (20 percent).

Saenuri Chairman Hwang Woo-yea told the JoongAng Ilbo that two other candidates aside from Park have expressed their intentions to run under the current rules. If Hwang goes ahead with the current rules, the primary will likely have three candidates: Park, Yim Tae-hee, former Blue House chief of staff, and Ahn Sang-soo, former mayor of Incheon.

"I will meet with Yim and Ahn first and discuss the process of the primary," Hwang told the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday. "The demands of Lee, Chung and Kim to have an open primary requires the party to revise its constitution and other regulations. Without enough discussion and agreement from all sides, the plan cannot be approved at the party's National Standing Committee and National Committee."

Hwang also said the party wouldn't have enough time to select its candidate unless the primary management committee was launched as scheduled today. Under the party's constitution, the presidential candidate must be decided by Aug. 21, 120 days before the election.

"We can always talk about the primary rules at the primary management committee," Hwang said. "I am not saying we cannot talk about it at all."
While Park remained silent about the issue, her loyalists said the candidates¡¯ demand to have an open primary is unreasonable. They said the current rules includes 50 percent of public votes and opinion polls, and another 30-percent from the rank-and-file party members, and that was sufficient to reflect public sentiment.

The possibility is slim for Park and her supporters to agree to an open primary. In the 2007 presidential primary, Park won the most votes from party members and delegates, but lost to Lee Myung-bak because he had a higher public opinion poll score.

Her supporters also worry that liberal opposition party members would vote in the open primary to cast ballots against her. For years, Park has been ranked as the presidential frontrunner in most polls, with only a few exceptions in recent months when liberal phenomenon Ahn Cheol-soo beat her.

Although the presidential primary committee was launched yesterday as scheduled, signs of a rupture were already evident. The committee will have 13 members including chairman Kim Soo-han, the party's standing advisor, but one seat was left vacant after Supreme Council Member Representative Shim Jae-chul withdrew his nominee in protest of the current primary process. Shim is a supporter of Representative Lee Jae-oh.

According to the party, the leadership delegated Chairman Hwang to make a nomination to fill the vacancy.

While the party leadership and Park were adamant about the primary rule, Yim held a press conference Sunday and said he would still run.

"I think the party leadership's decision to keep the current rules is a shortcut to a defeat in the presidential election in December,"Yim said. "But the three presidential candidates' threats to boycott the primary are also a wrong way of resolving the problem. I will join the primary no matter what happens."

Lee, Chung and Kim all criticized Hwang for working in favor of Park. "After being elected as the party¡¯s chairman, Hwang promised to manage the primary fairly and listen to all candidates' opinions," they said in a joint press statement. "But he just went ahead and formed the primary management committee without discussing the primary rules with us. That is a breach of that promise and we won¡¯t meet with Hwang, having lost trust in him."

They also said the lack of discussion among candidates to decide the primary rules amounts to an endorsement of Park as the Saenuri Party¡¯s presidential candidate.

"Hwang said he will just go ahead with the primary, and he is speaking on behalf of Park," Chung said.

Park ran into Lee and Chung on Saturday during a festival of Daegu and North Gyeongsang residents at the National Assembly's lawn but only exchanged short greetings.

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