Former minister reflects on election, nomination process

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Former minister reflects on election, nomination process


Rep. Yoo Ki-june, Former oceans and fisheries minister[LIM HYUN-DONG]

Ruling party Rep. Yoo Ki-june is gearing up for April’s general election, having just returned to the National Assembly following a stint as minister of oceans and fisheries.

As a member of the Saenuri Party, Yoo belongs to a faction loyal to President Park Geun-hye and has long served as an advocate for her policies and initiatives.

Regarding candidate selection for the election, Yoo said that the National Assembly should consider embracing the stricter screening process that was used in the 15th and 17th general elections: In the former, the party dropped 40 existing members, while 33.8 percent of lawmakers were weeded out and replaced in the 17th election.

The JoongAng Ilbo recently sat down with Yoo to discuss ideal candidate selection procedures and his relationships with other political veterans such as Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung and Yoo Seong-min, the party’s former floor leader.

Q. What was the most pressing issue when you served as oceans and fisheries minister?

A. Those were the issues related to salvaging the sunken Sewol ferry. President Park Geun-hye approved the decision to raise the ferry on April 16, the anniversary of the sinking. The process is going well as planned. We’ve cleaned out the debris from inside the ferry and set up protective nets so that the vessel won’t be damaged. [The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries] will start raising the ship and complete that process by July.

Busan will likely be an intense battleground in the upcoming election. How will the ruling party maintain its upper hand there?

Busan is where the [New Politics Alliance for Democracy] tries hard to gain clout. The western part of Busan, including Seo District in particular, has seen growing opposition influence. There will be also some changes in the electoral districts in Busan. Since the population of Gijang County has grown, Haeundae, which belongs to the Gijang electoral district, will be divided into two constituencies.

Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung has advocated a ratio of 7:3 - wherein 70 percent of candidates are elected through public votes and 30 percent are chosen through party nominations. What do you make of this idea?

In the beginning, the chairman supported an open primary system, but it isn’t a viable option since it was rejected by the opposition party. We are only four months away from the election, but we have not yet decided on nomination procedures. And the party couldn’t really embark on bringing in high-profile talent. If things keep going like this, we may have to stick to the current rule where half are selected by participating public votes and half by the party. So in a region where existing lawmakers have a weak standing, the party should place a figure selected by the party.

In past elections, 30 to 40 percent of lawmakers were weeded out ahead of the general election. Do you think that’s ideal?

Overall, we heard that the nominations in the 15th and 17th elections fared well. So we need to emulate that and win the hearts and minds of voters in cooperation with old and new candidates.

President Park appealed to the public to vote for “sincere” politicians in April’s general election. What do you think she meant by that?

By sincere, she meant a person whose actions follow his or her words. Putting it in more political terms, it might mean anyone who shares her thoughts about managing the country responsibly. For the Park administration to succeed and be successful, more lawmakers who agree with her governing philosophy should be elected. In that way, the party can play its role.

Does this mean that the Saenuri Party should select lawmakers who are Park loyalists as candidates in the election?

It’s important to note that the party, presidential office and the government should work in harmony with each other. We can imagine how confusing it must be when the public sees disparities in the remarks from the [ruling] party and the government. To stimulate the economy, the government and the governing party should be united to move forward.

Do you think former floor leader Yoo Seong-min could be selected?

I can’t talk about whether someone will be nominated or not. But if we look at the issue in light of the cooperation among the party, the government and the presidential office, the public’s view is already cemented. Everyone has the right to run in the general election, but for the governing party, it is beneficial to have more candidates whose thoughts are in line with President Park.

Chairman Kim Moo-sung says that the public should have more power in selecting candidates. How do you feel about this?

It’s correct in principle. But the plan for the open primary system now has been pulled. Under these circumstances, Kim’s opinion seems less convincing. It’s also hard to reform party rules regarding nominations if we look at the opinions of party members. So the Saenuri Party should decide the nomination process based on existing party rules.

When you returned to the National Assembly, you said that you called Kim Moo-sung, but he neither answered nor called back. How did that make you feel?

I called him once, but he didn’t answer. I think he was busy at the time. So I approached him at the National Assembly later, and he told me, “You had a tough job [as minister] and did well. Welcome back!” It’s simply not true that we have a bad relationship.

President Park has been criticized for not empathizing or communicating with the public and the legislature. What did you think of her communication skills when you worked as oceans minister?

President Park is very busy. No matter how she manages her time, there is never enough time to meet each and every person. But as minister, I had plenty of time to speak with the president. So I think this criticism is unfair. I met with her several times and reported on the issues related to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

The same goes for other ministers. They have a fair amount of time for discussion with the president.

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