In his 7th term, Suh will be president’s ‘pillar’

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In his 7th term, Suh will be president’s ‘pillar’

Suh Chung-won, who made a triumphant return to the National Assembly Wednesday, winning a seat by a margin of 34 percent against his Democratic Party opponent, said he plans to be a “support pillar and fence” for President Park Geun-hye.

But the lawmaker going into his seventh term - a longer parliamentary career than anyone else in the assembly - refused to address speculation about the precise role he will play inside the Saenuri Party. “I was only elected yesterday,” he said. “I haven’t thought about it yet.”

With the return of the veteran who served two prison terms for accepting illegal political funds, speculation is ripe that he, as the greatest confidant of the president, will inherit the party’s leadership from Hwang Woo-yea, whose term ends in May next year, putting him head-to-head with emerging bigwig Representative Kim Moo-sung.

The ruling Saenuri Party welcomed both Suh’s triumph in the Hwaseong-A District seat in Gyeonggi and that of former Minister of Public Administration Park Myung-jae’s in the Pohang-nam/Ulleung District in North Gyeongsang.

Party leader Hwang said in a statement, “We have verified the nation’s wish to encourage the political community to step up efforts to stabilize the livelihoods of the people and boost the economy, rather than wage political warfare.”

In Hwaseong-A, Suh defeated the Democratic Party’s Oh Il-yong by a margin of 33.5 percentage points. During the general election last year, the winning margin by Saenuri lawmaker Ko Hee-sun was 4.94 percentage points. (Ko died in August.)

When asked about his sweeping victory, Suh said the district is a traditional stronghold for the Saenuri Party and President Park.

“The political attacks from the opposition Democratic Party don’t seem to be working so well there,” he said in a radio show yesterday morning. The margin was even larger in the Pohang-nam/Ulleung District, where Park Myung-jae defeated DP candidate Heo Dae-man 78.6 percent to 18.5 percent.

DP floor leader Chun Byung-hun said in a party meeting yesterday morning it was a shame the DP failed to live up to the expectations of the voters.

“We will make further efforts to regain the nation’s confidence,” he said. A dozen party executives sitting next to him maintained silence.

Some DP members came up with the theory that the party simply flubbed the campaign. It was indifferent to the support it could rally from the younger generation and ignored the power of older voters in Hwaseong-A.

In some parts of the district - such as Bibong-myeon, Mado-myeon and Songsan-myeon - where over 50 percent of their voters are aged 50 or older, Suh clinched 74 percent of the votes. But in the densely populated urban areas of Bongdam-myeon and Hyangnam-myeon, where people in their 20s and 30s account for almost 50 percent of the demographic, the voting rate was even lower than the average in the two by-elections Wednesday, which was 27.6 percent.

“It is an excuse for the party to claim the two districts were hard ones to win,” said a leader of the DP. “The party should regain citizens’ support with a focus on basic livelihood issues such as taxes and pensions.”

The big question for the DP is whether voters think it’s too obsessed with the ongoing scandal over alleged interference in last year’s presidential election by government agencies.

“It is our duty to dig up proof of the allegation that government agencies intervened in the presidential election last year,” said a second-term lawmaker with the party. “But that does not do anything for the pocketbook issues that voters care about, nor does it help to improve the approval rating of the party.”

Since August, the party, led by chairman Kim Han-gill, has been focused on the election intervention scandal.



BY SEO JI-EUN, CHAE BYUNG-GUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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