Saenuri attempts to avert schism

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Saenuri attempts to avert schism

Factional leaders of the Saenuri Party agreed to a ceasefire to save the ruling party from splitting, but their deal was criticized as old fashioned “boss politics.”

Former Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung and Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan sat down for a talk Tuesday morning with floor leader Chung Jin-suk to discuss the party’s future. The party of President Park Geun-hye has been without a leadership for more than a month after its humiliating defeat in the April general election.

Choi, who won a fourth term in April, is considered a leader of the pro-Park faction, while Kim is considered the leader of the rival faction. Chung is considered neutral, although his recent election to the floor leadership was largely based on Park loyalists’ support.

The factional schism in the party has a long history and seriously affected the candidate nomination process for the latest election ? and the humiliating election result. While Park loyalists tried to control the process to plant more allies of the president in the legislature, the rival faction including Kim challenged the integrity of nominations.

Factional strife resurfaced last week in a big way when Park loyalists overthrew a reform plan proposed by Chung and urged their adversaries to leave the party.

Tuesday’s 90-minute meeting was intended to find a resolution to the civil war and save the party from breaking up, Chung said. They agreed that for the sake of the party’s future, they will declare that there will be no more factions.

They also agreed that an outside expert would be invited to head the party temporarily. The interim leader would be someone all three agree to, they said.

The party’s Constitution and regulations must be revised before a national convention to elect a new leadership, they agreed. The party will create a new leadership system by separating the election of the chairman and the election of Supreme Council members.

As of now, one leadership election is held and the candidate who won the largest votes becomes the chairman while the second to fifth-place winners become Supreme Council members.

Chung said the three agreed that the new chairman should be given strong power, as his or her authority was often challenged by the second place winner of the convention. “In order for the Saenuri Party to win the next presidential election, we all agreed that we must not be bound to existing rules,” Chung said.

A symbolic ceremony will also be prepared by the pro-Park faction and anti-Park faction to announce the end of their fight. Since the general election defeat in April, both Kim and Choi have kept low profiles. Kim mostly stayed in Busan, his hometown, while Choi went to the United States on a trip and refrained from public appearances. Their meeting with Chung on Tuesday indicated that they will likely start political activities.

The agreement among Kim, Choi and Chung, however, prompted criticisms from other party members.

“Kim and Choi said they will dismantle the factions, but their promises are deceptions unless they actually give up their ambitions to chair the party and become its presidential candidate,” Rep. Ha Tae-keung said Wednesday.

Speculation was high that Kim was looking to the presidential race, while Choi wanted to become chairman to offer stronger support of the ruling party to President Park in the later months of her presidency.

Ha said a general assembly of lawmakers should be held to approve the deal reached by the “bosses of the two factions,” demanding a democratic process to introduce reform measures.

Other lawmakers joined the criticisms. “They are acting extremely senselessly,” Rep. Chung Woo-taik said in a radio interview on Wednesday. “It’s a matter to be decided to by the lawmakers’ general assembly, but the three are acting as if they are the decision-makers.”

“Chung is an elected floor leader, but on what authority do the other two agree to the revision of the party constitution and regulations?” another senior lawmaker said. “They didn’t even bother to attend the latest senior lawmakers’ meeting. They appear to think they can control the party from behind a curtain.”

Chung hosted a discussion of senior lawmakers on Friday, but Kim and Choi were no shows.

As criticisms snowballed, Chung said a general assembly of lawmakers will be held early next week. “We will hold a meeting on Monday or Tuesday and have a fierce discussion on the party’s fate,” he said Wednesday. “A conclusion should be made quickly and the party must be stabilized as soon as possible.”

He said the deal reached at the trilateral talk is not binding. “But it is a fact that we three agreed to it, and a final conclusion can be made after the national committee of the party approves it.”

Chung also said it is lamentable that the party members criticize any efforts to reinvent the party without offering feasible alternatives.

“Most of the lawmakers I had met said the current leadership system of the Supreme Council must be revised,” he said. “So I relayed that opinion to Kim and Choi and they also agreed.”

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

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