‘Park’s kids’ eager to duke out general election in Daegu, Gyeongsang

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‘Park’s kids’ eager to duke out general election in Daegu, Gyeongsang

The new buzzword in the ruling party is the need for a “change of water” in the next general election - especially in the president’s Daegu stronghold.

But flushing out the old guard currently representing Daegu’s 12 constituencies and 15 more in neighboring North Gyeongsang will involve a deeper political battle with Rep. Yoo Seong-min, former Saenuri floor leader and President Park Geun-hye’s current bete noire.

It will also be a direct challenge to calls from another wing in the party for new nomination rules for Saenuri candidates in the April general election. They want a system of open primaries and nominations from on high to be laid to rest. Open primaries bring new blood to the party, which the public likes, a very different concept from the president’s allies call for a “change of water.”

Her allies are already showing their intentions to run in April. Interior Minister Chong Jong-sup offered to resign Sunday, saying he didn’t want “ongoing speculation” about his future plans to get in the way of state affairs. The announcement was seen as an indicator that the 59-year-old will run in the next general election.

He reportedly is eyeing Daegu’s Dong A District, one of the 12 districts in the city, all of which are currently controlled by the ruling party. He and many of the other self-proclaimed “Park Geun-hye kids” would need to be given nominations by the president, misleadingly referred to as “strategic nominations.” Often they are simply safe seats to win.

In addition to Minister Chong, Yoon Doo-hyun, former presidential senior secretary for public affairs, declared his intention to run in Daegu’s Seo District, currently occupied by Rep. Kim Sang-hoon.

In Daegu’s Buk A District, Jun Kwang-sam, former Blue House press center head, and Kim Jong-pil, former Blue House legal affairs secretary, are challenging Rep. Kwon Eun-hee. Only one is expected to actually run for the Saenuri.

Former North Gyeongsang Vice Governor Lee In-sun, a Park ally, is also preparing to run in Daegu Jung-Nam District.

The most piquant challenge is by Lee Jae-man, former Daegu Dong District head, who wants to take on Yoo Seong-min, the former Saenuri floor leader who is giving the president a hard time these days, to represent Daegu Dong B District.

Yoo has a tangled history with the president and her family. His father Yoo Su-ho was ousted as a judge by the president’s father, strongman Park Chung Hee. He went on to become a feisty lawmaker representing Daegu’s Jung District.

The younger Yoo actually served as Park’s chief of staff when she was chairwoman of the ruling party and was in charge of public affairs strategy in her 2007 presidential primary campaign. He became estranged from the president before the 2012 election but ended up being voted floor leader in February.

That set the two up for a final confrontation, which occurred earlier this year. Yoo brokered a legislative deal with the main opposition party to ensure that a reform of the civil servants pension plan was passed. In return, Yoo agreed to a revision of the National Assembly Act that strengthened lawmakers’ authority to demand changes in administrative legislation.

Park furiously condemned Yoo for “politics of betrayal” in June and forced him to step down from the floor leader post. Now they are enemies. And the “Park Geun-hye kids” want to move into assembly seats held by allies of Yoo. In total, more than 10 allies of Park have either declared bids or are preparing to run in districts currently occupied by lawmakers who are not friendly to her.

In Dalseong District, the president’s former constituency, Kwak Sang-do, former civil affairs secretary for the Blue House, is preparing a bid.

Kim Yong-pan, former Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency chief, is preparing to run in Daegu’s Dalseo B District. Kim was accused of interfering in an investigation into allegations that the National Intelligence Service meddled in the 2012 presidential election in favor of Park and concealed evidence. He was acquitted of the charges.

“This is the true nature of ‘changing water’ in Daegu,” said a Saenuri lawmaker loyal to Park. “When the nomination period nears, they will (make an opportunity to start a political fight) to build a ‘Park Geun-hye belt’ to surround the others.”

The lawmaker said without injecting fresh political blood into Daegu, the party may struggle in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi.

Some analysts say that rationale doesn’t made sense. “‘Changing water’ in Daegu is an appeal to the supporters of the ruling party,” said Kwon Soon-jung, head of the opinion poll department at Realmeter. “It has nothing to do with races in the capital region.”

Yoon Jong-bin, a professor of political science at Myongji University, said some way of introducing new blood may be beneficial to the party. “As long as fair primaries are guaranteed, ‘changing water’ in Daegu will give the Saenuri Party a reformist image,” he said.

Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung has stressed repeatedly that the party will make no so-called strategic nominations, but Park’s allies vehemently oppose that stance and say the president needs the room for political maneuvering, meaning cherry-picking some candidates for April.

Strategic nominations have been used as a way to guarantee National Assembly seats to certain high-profile figures. Getting a nomination in Daegu with the reputation of being a Park ally is a winning ticket in Korea’s political culture.

“Many Daegu voters dislike the assumption that a nomination from Park translates into an election victory,” said Chun Young-pyung, honorary professor of public administration at Daegu University. “’Changing water’ sounds like what the people want, but the Blue House’s notion of a change of water means planting the president’s loyalists in races.”

Signs of a war in the so-called TK area (Daegu and North Gyeongsang) grew as Park associates grew uneasy about the rise of Rep. Yoo. The TK nickname dates to when Daegu was transliterated as Taegu and Gyeongsang as Kyongsang.

Although Yoo lost the battle with the president in July, he gained new respect for having stood up to her.

Deputy Prime Minister for Economy and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan, a three-term lawmaker currently representing Gyeongsan and Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang, is one of the closest associates of the president and he is known for his ambition to succeed the president’s long-held title of the TK area.

Ruling party lawmakers said Interior Minister Chong probably consulted with Choi before announcing his intention to resign on Sunday to seek a new political future.

Incumbent lawmakers in Daegu, whose chances to win reelection are being undercut by Park allies, complain that the president’s reputation is being hurt by her associates. “If they act as if they were already chosen by Park, that will actually damage the president,” said Rep. Kim Sang-hoon.

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

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