Schism in Saenuri widens over 2016 nominations

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Schism in Saenuri widens over 2016 nominations

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Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung waves his hand towards reporters to say, “Stop questioning,” on Wednesday in the National Assembly. [NEWSIS]

The office of President Park Geun-hye and her political allies came into conflict with the chairman of the ruling party Wednesday over his deal with the opposition on primary rules for the next general election.

A senior Blue House official said Wednesday that the ruling and opposition parties’ agreement on Monday to hold open primaries in the form of telephone polling of the general public is seriously worrisome. The two parties are attempting to appeal to the public by having more transparent primaries that value public opinion, promote fresh faces and do away with backroom deals.

Commenting on the condition of anonymity, the Blue House official said it was wrong for the ruling party chairman to negotiate such an important matter with the opposition leader without consulting senior members of the party.

Chairman Kim Moo-sung of the Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in, his counterpart in the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), agreed on Monday to revise the election law to include primaries open to the public for next April’s general election. It would be the first time the two main parties hold primaries with the same rules.

They agreed that the primaries will include telephone polling of the general public using so-called “secured numbers.” Basically a security arrangement, mobile carriers convert actual phone numbers of customers into virtual numbers and provide them
to political parties for polling. This
is supposed to prevent the party from
using phone numbers of known
supporters.

When Kim and Moon negotiated, President Park was in New York attending United Nations events.

The Park aide criticized Kim for not going through the proper channels of discussion. While denying that the Blue House was trying to influence the nominations process for the ruling party, the official said, “The nomination system using secured numbers was publicized as if it were extreme-
ly desirable, but we thought it was
necessary to also talk about our
concerns.”

The senior presidential official said the “secured numbers” will not be able to prevent the possibility that an NPAD supporter might be polled in a Saenuri primary and vote for the weakest candidate on purpose.

“If this is the case, you won’t be able to stop strategic counter-voting by our opponents,” he said, “and public sentiment will be distorted.”

He also said telephone polls often have a very low rate of response, an average of 2 percent.

The cost will also be high, he continued. If the National Election Commission manages the primaries, tax money will have to be used, and the public will not be happy about the spending, he said.

After reaching the deal on Monday, the Saenuri Party and NPAD leaders said the telephone primaries would be much cheaper than U.S.-style primaries, in which party members have to cast ballots in polling places.

It was the first time that the Blue House commented on the nomination rules of the ruling party.

Allies of the president said Park has declared a war against Kim.

Ever since Kim announced his ambition to field all candidates through open primaries, Park loyalists opposed the plan. Earlier Wednesday morning, Kim arranged a meeting of senior party members to explain the primary rules agreed to with Moon, but he faced severe resistance from them.

While no sensitive remarks were made in earshot of the press, Park loyalists reportedly criticized Kim severely during closed-door sessions.

Rep. Cho Won-jin, deputy floor leader of the party, told reporters after the meeting that the Park loyalists have no intention of accepting Kim’s deal. “The opposition party will hold its primary, and the ruling party will go its own way,” he said.

Rep. Suh Chung-won, a Supreme Council member nicknamed “elder brother” of the Park loyalists, boycotted the meeting. Instead, he hosted a luncheon with Park allies to discuss their next moves. Several senior lawmakers, including Reps. Hong Moon-jong and Cho, attended the luncheon.

Kim allies said the Blue House and Park loyalists are resisting the primary rules because they want to secure the president’s role in nominating candidates. When all candidates are chosen through an open primary, no strategic nominations will be made, and that will reduce the chance of Park allies being nominated.

Kim refuted Park allies’ criticism that he had bypassed the president.

“[Telephone polls using secured numbers] have nothing to do with a political issue,” Kim told reporters. “This is a matter of a simple technique, and it’s not something to consult the Blue House about.”

Later in the afternoon, Kim hosted a general assembly of Saenuri lawmakers and discussed the primary arrangement. The lawmakers decided to establish a special panel inside the party to discuss the nomination process, but they failed to agree on whether or not to accept the deal Kim reached with Moon.

The NPAD criticized the Blue House and Park loyalists for opposing the agreed upon primary rules.

“I cannot understand why some Saenuri members are now opposing it,” Moon said. “The Saenuri Party must not make the mistake of abandoning the reform of electoral systems and politics due to internal power struggles.”

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

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