A house divided

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A house divided

Presidential secretary for political affairs Hyun Ki-hwan and Saenuri floor leader Chung Jin-suk were seated back to back on a train taking them to Gwangju for a state ceremony to commemorate the May 18 democratization movement. But during the two-hour ride, they did not exchange a single word. The scene underscores the deep rift between the party’s pro-Park faction and Park adversaries.

The pro-Park lawamkers earned the ire of the other side by boycotting a national party members’ meeting to endorse the launch of a reform committee. That killed any chance of reform. From our view, we wonder if state affairs can be run properly. The prospect of a reformed Saenuri is even more unlikely. The public delivered a clear no-confidence vote in the president and her party in the April 13 general election. It was basically telling the president to amend her domineering governance style and adopt the politics of cooperation and compromise.

Park’s loyalists are ignoring that message and want one thing only: to maintain their dominance of the party. They refused to attend the national party members’ meeting to launch two new committees, which were to be organized by Park adversaries. Many believe that Hyun or the president was behind that manoeuvre. There is talk that Hyun gave floor leader Chung a list of the people the president wanted to see head and organize the two committees.

The pro-Park faction began its boycott after Chung refused to comply. Hyun should be blamed for the fact that such rumors are going around. The government and ruling party are up against unprecedented challenges. The ruling party has lost not only its majority in the National Assembly but is also reduced to being the second largest party. The senior secretary for political affairs should talk straight to the president and suggest ways to improve relations with the legislature.

But Hyun appears to be fanning the flames of conflict. Hyun has come under fire for his excesses. He ruined a hard-won reconciliatory mood between the president and opposition leaders by the outright favoring of the People’s Party over the Minjoo Party. He earned the scorn of the president for turning away the gift of a plant from Minjoo Party interim leader Kim Chong-in for her birthday. He has been swept up in a rumor involving a list of nominations for election candidates favored by the presidential office.

The secretary in charge of political affairs should obviously have stepped down after the landslide election defeat in April. Who had more responsibility for that defeat? Hyun’s offered resignation was turned down because the president has deep confidence in him as he is among the few remaining from her political base in the southern Gyeongsang region.

But Hyun has abused the president’s confidence and his power to make things worse in the party and in the relationship between the president and the party. Hyun must go, and if the president doesn’t take action, public confidence in both her and the Saenuri Party will be lost for good.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 20, Page 34
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