Suh, Park’s ally, makes comeback in a by-election

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Suh, Park’s ally, makes comeback in a by-election


Suh Chung-won

Suh Chung-won, a former six-term lawmaker, won one of two by-elections for the National Assembly yesterday in the Hwaseong-A District seat in Gyeonggi.

Suh had 62.7 percent of the votes while the opposition Democratic Party’s Oh Il-yong, had 29.2 percent of the votes. The seat was formerly occupied by Saenuri lawmaker Ko Hee-sun, who died in August.

In the less-attention-receiving district of Pohang-nam/Ulleung District in North Gyeongsang, former Minister of Public Administration Park Myung-jae led DP candidate Heo Dae-man, 78.6 percent versus 18.5 percent.

Both of the regions are traditional strongholds of the conservatives.

Any victory is consolation for a ruling party that has been on the ropes for weeks in a scandal over alleged election meddling by government agencies, including the National Intelligence Service, in last year’s presidential election campaign.

The opposition tried to recruit Sohn Hak-kyu, a former four-term lawmaker, to face off against Suh in the Hwaseong-A in an attempt to frame the by-election as a referendum on the performance of President Park Geun-hye, but the former four-term lawmaker declined.

The return to the political scene of heavyweight Suh, President Park’s long-time ally who served two separate prison terms for violating election-finance laws, may signal a wind of change in the leadership structure at the ruling Saenuri Party.

He is also expected to present a challenge to Representative Kim Moo-sung, who has been building his clout in the party and has recently emerged as one of the strongest candidates for the next presidential race. Kim is highly likely to run for the party chairmanship in a party convention scheduled for next year.

Party insiders say Kim is remote from the president, who has strong confidence in Suh because he is less politically ambitious and more loyal.

As soon as the party officially nominated the former Park adviser to run in Gyeonggi, speculation started that the Blue House was trying to keep Kim in check and reward Suh. The Blue House tried to dispel the notion by officially announcing Suh’s nomination “has nothing to do with us. We couldn’t possibly be involved in political intervention.”

Suh was first arrested in 2004 for accepting 1 billion won ($943,000) in slush funds during the presidential campaign of 2002. He was released from prison just 12 days after the National Assembly passed a resolution to free him. He was imprisoned again in 2009 for receiving a combined 3 billion won ($2.8 million) from two proportional representation candidates. He was sentenced to 18 months but was granted a special pardon reducing the term by half a year in celebration of Korea’s Liberation Day in 2010.

Suh denies his alleged ambition to seek the leadership of the ruling party. He reportedly told Kim Moo-sung at a dinner in September that he has no intention of competing against him for power within the party.

“Don’t worry. Why would I fight against you? I already served as chairman of the party 10 years ago and I don’t mean to do it again,” he was quoted as saying by the Kyunghyang Daily.

In response, Kim said, “You should come back and serve your role.”

Both Suh and Kim began their political careers when Kim Young-sam was an opposition leader before becoming president in 1993.


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