In protest, contenders shun Saenuri’s primary

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In protest, contenders shun Saenuri’s primary

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Three presidential hopefuls announced yesterday they will not run for primaries. From left, Lee Jae-oh and Chung Mong-joon of the ruling Saenuri Party, and Chung Dong-young of the main opposition Democratic United Party. [YONHAP]


Two political heavyweights from the Saenuri Party made it official yesterday: They will boycott the party’s upcoming presidential primary.

The decisions by Lee Jae-oh and Chung Mong-joon, representatives of the ruling Saenuri Party, came amid growing concern inside the conservative party that its candidate selection process will not capture the attention of the public or media.

Complaining that the current primary rule favors Representative Park Geun-hye, the party’s longtime presidential front-runner, Lee and other presidential hopefuls have demanded an open primary, but the party leadership decided to retain the existing format.

Park is scheduled to formally announce her bid when candidate registration begins today.

In his press conference, Lee, a close associate of President Lee Myung-bak, reiterated that he decided to stay out of the process to protest the primary rule. “I won’t blame anyone,” he said.

Asked if he will support the Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate, Lee said, “I will wait and see. The primary will begin soon and it won’t take too long to make up my mind once the selection is made.”

Another senior politician of the Saenuri Party, Chung Mong-joon, also said yesterday he will not participate in the primary.

“A quarter of a century has passed since the 1987 democratization, but the dictatorship over the party is still praised today,” Chung said.

“Participating in the primary under this circumstance is an act of approving and abetting the party to go back to the period of authoritarianism.”

Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo, another contender, will announce his decision on Thursday.

Along with Lee and Chung, Kim also has demanded an open primary and threatened to boycott the process. But sources said Kim may decide to run.

Yim Tae-hee, former presidential chief of staff; Ahn Sang-soo, former Incheon mayor; and Representative Kim Tae-ho, former South Gyeongsang governor, are expected to register their candidacies today.

The absence of Lee and Chung triggered concerns in the ruling party that its primary might not generate much media or public interest because the outcome will be too easy to predict, given Park’s longtime popularity.

The primary will also have to compete with the London Olympic Games, which will be going on at the same time.

A party member said yesterday that Park’s image would be tainted by the absence of her two key rivals. “Some compromises such as delaying the primary until after the Olympics and increasing public participation were proposed, but they were not accepted,” said Representative Shim Jae-chul, a member of the party’s Supreme Council.

“Even if they had been accepted, they would have not changed the overall outlook. It is very unfortunate that Park’s headstrong image was accentuated during the process.”

Park loyalists and the Saenuri leadership downplayed concerns, stressing that a popular primary would not guarantee success in the presidential election.

“I hope all candidates register their candidacies tomorrow to meet the public expectations and revitalize the primary,” said Hwang Woo-yea, chairman of Saenuri, yesterday.

“Making bold decisions to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause is what the party and the people want from them.”

Meanwhile, a former presidential candidate of the liberal opposition party said yesterday that he will neither run nor participate in the primary for the Democratic United Party.

Chung Dong-young was the presidential candidate of the United New Democratic Party, one of the long line of predecessors of the DUP, in 2007, but lost to Lee Myung-bak by more than 5.3 million votes.

“Five years ago, I disappointed many people with my presidential defeat,” Chung said, adding that he will support the DUP’s campaign.

Sources said Chung won’t support any particular contender in the primary but support the party’s presidential campaign after the candidate is finalized.

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

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