Saenuri debates its party nomination system

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Saenuri debates its party nomination system

The ruling Saenuri Party yesterday held its first general meeting of party members this year and came close to formerly reneging on its presidential campaign promise to scrap the party’s 20-year right to nominate candidates for municipal offices and city councils in local elections.

Mindful of possible public backlash against the backtracking, however, the party did not take an official stance on the matter, instead relaying the issue to the National Assembly’s bipartisan Political Reform Committee, which will reach a final agreement on the issue no later than the end of February.

The ruling party has so far claimed that eradicating the nomination system would result in candidacies being filled by unscreened contenders, undermining the basic responsibility of the party.

“People trust candidates [running for local offices] based on what political party they are affiliated with,” Hwang Woo-yeah, chairman of the Saenuri, said yesterday during the meeting at the National Assembly. “Representing candidates for elected offices is the underlying responsibility of a political party.”

To enforce their case against eradicating the system, the Saenuri said in a statement released yesterday that without the party’s nomination, there was a high possibility that unqualified candidates would run for local offices as a result of a lack of an official vetting process.

The Saenuri also questioned whether the termination of the party nomination system would lead to “cleaner politics,” arguing that incumbent lawmakers could grant candidacies to others through bribes or in exchange for personal favors.

The party also claimed that getting rid of the system would simply be a populist reform measure that would be of no real benefit. Instead of abolishing the party nomination system, the Saenuri proposed that it will consider embracing the open primary system for the June elections, in which people with no affiliation to the party can still cast ballots in primary polls to elect party candidates.

The position voiced by the Saenuri yesterday was an about-face from its presidential election promise. During her campaign, Park Geun-hye, then the ruling party candidate, pledged to end the party’s nomination system as part of efforts to remove central party politics from its vested interests, strengthen grassroots politics and abolish corruption among influential officials and local party offices.

This view was also shared by the opposition Democratic Party and its candidate Moon Jae-in during the campaign. Under the bipartisan pledge, those running for city mayor, county heads or council members will hold no party affiliation in local elections.

Political observers suspect that the ruling party wants to keep the nomination system because, in the absence of such a system, incumbent officials and council members seeking re-election would have an advantage with voters, who are generally more familiar with sitting lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the opposition yesterday slammed the Saenuri’s change in position, claiming that its flip-flopping would be judged harshly by voters. The DP also demanded that Park make her stance on the issue clear.

“During her presidential campaign, President Park defined the worst type of politics as that which breaks its promise to the people,” said DP Chairman Kim Han-gill. “Now, President Park and the Saenuri have declared that they themselves are that type.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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