NPAD’s leader back in saddle

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NPAD’s leader back in saddle

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Park Young-sun, floor leader of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, walks into a news conference yesterday at the National Assembly to announce her move. [NEWS1]

The embittered leader of the country’s main opposition party withdrew her threat to quit after being begged by party elders, ending a four-day sulk of shutting off her phone.

But she quit as the party’s interim leader and only agreed to continue on as its floor leader to reach an agreement with the ruling Saenuri Party on a law to investigate the sinking of the Sewol in April.

Park Young-sun’s decision to remain in the New Politics Alliance for Democracy and serve as its floor leader for a while longer averted the worst-case scenario feared by its supporters. But it wasn’t clear if she’d be able to avoid more conflicts of the kind that pushed her to the brink.

“I am standing here now because of sincere pleas by veteran party members, who have led the opposition over the past 60 years, for me to revive the party by sacrificing myself and taking this challenge as the last one,” said a stern-looking interim party leader before a throng of reporters at the National Assembly yesterday. “From now on, I will go ahead with responsibilities thrust upon me.”

Before appearing at the National Assembly yesterday afternoon, Park hadn’t been seen since Sunday night.

Though the 54-year-old lawmaker opted to stay in the party, the upheaval has exposed the opposition’s deep factional fissures and left many wondering how it will recover from the self-inflicted wounds caused by internecine conflicts.

While reading a prepared statement, Park did not hide her disdain for hard-line party lawmakers who demanded she step down from the leadership. She said the NPAD needs a “complete overhaul” if it hopes to recapture power in the 2017 presidential election.

“The party has to go for endless reform,” she said, “and change everything except for its history as a 60-year party.”

According to several sources close to her, Park was personally hurt watching more than 30 of her party lawmakers openly denounce her decision to choose a former Saenuri Party member as a co-leader of an emergency committee to lead the NPAD and their demand that she quit leading the party herself. Park was “appalled by how ideologically rigid the party had become,” a source said.

On news reports that she had seriously considered quitting the party altogether, Park acknowledged that she had.

The former TV journalist who entered politics in 2004 said she was overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness after watching her attempted reform of the party thwarted by in-house squabbling.

“It is true that I thought I might have to leave the party under the circumstances,” she said yesterday.

Park went into seclusion after 30 hawkish NPAD policy makers called for her resignation after she appointed Lee Sang-don, professor emeritus at Chung-Ang University, to co-lead the emergency committee.

Lee was a member of the ruling Saenuri Party and even worked for its campaigns for both the 2012 general election and the presidential election later that year.

By having a former Saenuri member lead the committee, Park was trying to move the party more to the center to restore its popularity with the general public. Park said yesterday she had endeavored to “reform the party so it could be better sympathized by the public.”

Hawkish NPAD lawmakers criticized her for a lack of communication with party policy makers in forging important decisions. Many also grew disgruntled with Park’s two deals with the ruling Saenuri over the terms of a special law to investigate the April sinking of the Sewol, which has left more than 300 dead.

The NPAD forced her to repudiate those deals over objections from the relatives of the students who died on the Sewol.

It is expected that Park will step down as party floor leader once an agreement is reached on the Sewol law. She resigned from the NPAD’s emergency committee leadership yesterday.

The emergency committee will basically control the NPAD until it holds a party convention early next year to elect a party leader and supreme council members.

To find new leaders, the party will hold a meeting today of senior party members, including former party chairmen and women.

Park also lashed out at President Park Geun-hye yesterday for her refusal Tuesday to accept the demand by the families who lost teenage children in the Sewol sinking to give a fact-finding committee investigative and indictment authority.

This is the demand that scuttled the two agreements Park Young-sun earlier made with the ruling party on the Sewol bill.

President Park dismissed the demand during a meeting with Saenuri leadership members Tuesday at the Blue House, saying that giving indictment authority to a fact-finding committee that would be established under the special law would violate the separation of powers in Korea’s democracy and undermine the judicial system.

By law, only prosecutors have the authority to indict suspects.

“The president yesterday displayed a contradictory governing style by giving a guideline on legislating the special Sewol law [to the Saenuri leadership] while at the same time citing the separation of powers. … I will put forth last-ditch efforts [in finding the solution] after gaining overall opinions from party lawmakers.”

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


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