New floor leader promises changes

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New floor leader promises changes

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Rep. Yoo Seong-min, right, the newly elected floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, celebrates his victory with Rep. Won Yoo-chul, who was elected as the party’s chief policymaker, after a party primary Monday. By Kim Sang-seon

The Saenuri Party elected a non-mainstream lawmaker from outside the pro-Park Geun-hye faction as its floor leader, elevating Rep. Yoo Seong-min as the No. 2 power in the ruling party and signaling a change in the way it does business with the Blue House.

Three-term lawmaker Yoo defeated rival Lee Ju-young in a party primary on Monday after a vote of 84 to 65, capitalizing on the growing disgruntlement among fellow lawmakers at the Park administration’s handling of national affairs without consulting with them.

Rep. Won Yoo-chul, who teamed up with Yoo, was elected the Saenuri’s chief policymaker.

The duo will succeed former Saenuri Floor Leader Lee Wan-koo, now tapped to be the prime minister if he passes the confirmation hearings, and Kim Jae-won, the former chief policymaker.

Yoo, 57, ran on a pledge to put the Saenuri back at the center of decision-making with the Blue House, making clear he would be more assertive in getting its demands heard by President Park.

In contrast to Yoo’s campaign, four-term lawmaker Lee Ju-young, who is considered loyal to Park and teamed up with another Park loyalist, Hong Moon-jong, ran on the promise that he would forge a healthy relationship with the Blue House. He warned that a strained relationship would result in the party’s defeat in the general elections scheduled for April 2016.

During his campaign, Yoo was not shy about criticizing the way the Blue House and his party have communicated over the past two years. Yoo’s views were reflected in his acceptance speech Monday.

“I have repeated my position that the party has to be at the center of the Blue House’s national affairs management. … So far the party has not taken the central position and we have had problems stemming from a lack of open and closed discussions [with the Blue House], which caused troubles in personnel appointments and policy decisions,” Yoo said.

In recognition of the challenges facing the Blue House from a recent drop in the president’s approval ratings, Yoo said he will strive to bring about change and reform the party, adding that many ruling party lawmakers were seriously concerned about the public’s growing disappointment with the government.

“As the party’s floor leader, I will fix the communication problem with the president and her office,” said Yoo, who hails from Daegu.

Yoo’s victory Monday comes after President Park’s approval ratings fell to 29 percent, an 11 percent drop in just three weeks after the government seriously fumbled its income tax policy.

Park held an emergency meeting with cabinet members Sunday to create a new system of coordinating government policies. But the ruling party was not invited.

On Monday, Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung called on Park to consult with the party on every issue in national affairs during a supreme council meeting.

Since he was elected to the chairmanship last July, Kim has yet to have a one-on-on meeting with Park.

“With Yoo and Kim now at the helm, the Saenuri will make its demands clear to the Blue House,” said Cho Kwang-hwan, who served as the deputy spokesman for the Roh Moo-hyun Blue House.

“There appears to be consensus [within the Saenuri] that shifting its relationship with the Blue House is essential.”

Yoo, a former professor of economics with a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, has been a critic of Park’s longtime stance on increasing welfare benefits without tax increases. Though he has not declared support for increased taxes, Yoo has called on the government to come to terms with the reality that more welfare benefits without a tax increase is not feasible.

“This is a matter that must be decided by the public,” Yoo said of the recent controversy over tax increases to cover welfare benefits.

“I will start an arduous process of asking the people whether the country should head for ‘more taxes with more welfare’ or ‘less taxes with less welfare.’”

A big part of the government’s fall in popularity is due to tax increases, including a hike in the tax on cigarettes and higher-than-expected income tax bills for 2014, which the government had specifically said wouldn’t happen.

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


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