Fate of Saenuri Party floor leader still up in air

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Fate of Saenuri Party floor leader still up in air

The fate of the embattled floor leader of the ruling party remained up in the air as of Monday evening after the party leadership failed to find an amicable way to satisfy President Park Geun-hye’s demand that he be sacked.

The Saenuri Party held an emergency Supreme Council meeting at 3 p.m. on Monday to address the president’s bitter dissatisfaction with Rep. Yoo Seong-min, the floor leader of the ruling party, and the widening schism between the Blue House and the party.

It was the first time the party’s highest decision-making body held a meeting to discuss its chief negotiator’s fate, while its lawmakers have become increasingly split on Park’s demand.

“For two hours and 30 minutes, the Supreme Council members exchanged talk and fully expressed their opinions,” Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung said in a press conference after the meeting.

“I will not elaborate on the details, but we wrapped up the discussion after floor leader Yoo said he heard the members and he will consider their opinions.”

Kim added that it was his responsibility as party chairman to stop a catastrophe befalling the party.

The ruling party found itself in a predicament after Park vetoed Thursday a revision to the National Assembly Act that had been supported by the party, and condemned Yoo for making a political deal with the opposition.

The revision was passed in return for the civil servants’ pension reform plan, an ambitious project of Park’s, but the bargain angered the president because the change in the law would strengthen lawmakers’ power to demand changes in administrative legislation.

Yoo apologized to the president and promised to improve his relationship with the Blue House - but rejected all suggestions that he quit.

Park has remained silent about the situation after unusually lengthy and harsh criticism of Yoo last Thursday.

But presidential aides and Park loyalists inside the ruling party are pressuring Yoo to give up his job.

Yoo was elected to the post in February based on a pledge that he would be more assertive with the Blue House and restore the party’s place at the center of policymaking.

The Supreme Council has eight members including Chairman Kim Moo-sung and Yoo. Rep. Won Yoo-chul, who was elected chief policymaker as Yoo’s running mate in February, is also a member of the Supreme Council. The remaining five are Suh Chung-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Kim Tae-ho, Rhee In-je and Kim Eul-dong.

The eight members are split over Yoo’s fate. Four members - Suh, Lee, Rhee and Kim Tae-ho - have openly said Yoo needs to step down.

“There were different opinions as to whether this issue will be decided by the Supreme Council or at a general assembly of all Saenuri lawmakers,” Chairman Kim said.

“Some of the Supreme Council members said someone needs to take the responsibility for the current situation and it should be Yoo, that he needs to make a sacrifice for the sake of the party. Others said we should give him some time.”

Suh, a 72-year-old seven-term lawmaker nicknamed the “eldest brother of the Park loyalists” for his years of loyalty to the president, has said repeatedly that Yoo must step down.

Before heading to the Supreme Council meeting, Suh said, “Yoo has always said he wants the success of President Park and the Park administration. That’s why I believe Yoo will make a decision from a broader point of view.”

Following the meeting, Suh also hinted that Chairman Kim shared the opinion that Yoo needs to step down. Asked what Kim said during the meeting about Yoo’s resignation, Suh said, “He said ultimately that should be the direction.”

After the meeting, Yoo told reporters that he had listened to the Supreme Council members’ opinions and replied to them. He added that he will need to listen to opinions of other lawmakers.

Lee, another Park loyalist, said earlier in the day that Yoo must step down. Lee is a two-term lawmaker who served as the senior presidential secretary for political affairs and then the senior presidential secretary for public affairs from 2013 till 2014.

In addition to the two Park loyalists, Rhee and Kim Tae-ho had already made public their stances that Yoo must resign.

Earlier in the day, a group of 21 second-term lawmakers who are not Park loyalists criticized the leadership’s plan to discuss Yoo’s fate.

They issued a statement and said it is undemocratic for the leadership to decide the fate of the floor leader because he was elected by Saenuri lawmakers based on the party’s constitution.

“The floor leader was decided based on a democratic process, and the Supreme Council must not make a unilateral move to decide his fate without asking the opinions of all lawmakers,” the lawmakers said.

They also said the Supreme Council is supposed to work to unite the party, not to create a rupture.

Immediately after Park lashed out at Yoo on Thursday, her loyalists put direct and indirect pressure on him to step down.

The effort reached a new peak earlier Monday as they either skipped a routine Supreme Council meeting in the day to protest Yoo’s continuing attendance as the floor leader, or attended for the purpose of attacking him.

On Monday morning the Supreme Council held a routine conference in Pyongtaek, Gyeonggi, to observe the 13th anniversary of the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong, a skirmish between the two Koreas near the western sea border.

Suh and Lee did not attend the meeting to pressure Yoo, while Kim Tae-ho attacked Yoo.

“The president strongly complained about the floor leader,” he said. “What would that mean? That means she really needs a stable relationship with the ruling party to run the country smoothly. Interpreting it as one individual’s attempt to remove the floor leader is wrong.

“In order to resolve the conflict with the Blue House, I think, sadly, Yoo needs to make a bold decision,” Kim said. He added that Chairman Kim must stop protecting Yoo.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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