Park aides accused of strong-arming candidate

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Park aides accused of strong-arming candidate

The lingering controversy surrounding the ruling party’s nomination process for the April general election reached the Blue House on Tuesday, as key associates of President Park Geun-hye were accused of strong-arming a candidate to change his constituency.

Reps. Yoon Sang-hyun and Choi Kyung-hwan of the Saenuri Party, close allies of President Park, were accused of pressuring a candidate, Kim Sung-hoi, to change his constituency. The two lawmakers’ conversations with Kim were publicized by TV Chosun on Monday. The cable network also said Tuesday it will reveal more remarks, made by Hyun Ki-hwan, who served as the senior political affairs secretary to the president at the time.

Kim, who won the 2008 election in Hwaseong A District of Gyeonggi, declared his intention to seek reelection in January and registered his preliminary bid. His competitor was Rep. Suh Chung-won, a key associate of Park and a leader of the faction loyal to the president. Suh won the by-election in Hwaseong A in 2013.

According to transcripts made public by TV Chosun on Monday, Yoon tried to persuade Kim to change his constituency, assuring him that he will win nomination if he agrees. “You should drop out,” Yoon said. “I know where the president wants you to run. It’s not there.”

As Kim complained, Yoon also said, “You shouldn’t challenge it. I’m letting you know the president’s intention. [The intentions of] the senior political affairs secretary, [Choi] Kyung-hwan, the president and I, they are all the same.”

Yoon also threatened Kim that he would face law enforcement authorities’ investigations, saying, “I have various things on you.”

After Yoon’s telephone call, Kim also got a call from Rep. Choi, who served as deputy prime minister for the economy. While Choi turned down Kim’s request for a proportional representation candidacy, Choi assured Kim of a nomination in the nearby district. Choi also criticized Kim for having displayed poor political sense by challenging a powerful rival.

When Kim asked Choi if changing districts was truly the president’s wish, Choi responded, “Yes, yes, yes, yes. Nominating you on the nearby district is our offer of help.”

Kim then changed his constituency twice from Hwaseong A to Hwaseong B and then to Hwaseong C in February. The party, however, did not nominate him. He asked the party’s nomination committee for a reevaluation, but his appeal was rejected. The Blue House remained silent about the reports. “It is not something we should comment on,” a Blue House official said.

The integrity of the Saenuri Party’s candidate nomination process for the April 13 general election was challenged, as complaints were made that Park loyalists controlled the selection. While the factionalism cost the ruling party a humiliating defeat in the election, the confrontation between Park loyalists and her adversaries continued, as they prepared for a chairmanship election on Aug. 9.

The reports dealt a serious blow to Choi, the kingpin of the Park faction, who strongly denied suggestions that he had controlled the nomination process. Earlier this month, Choi announced that he won’t run in the chairmanship election for the sake of the Park administration’s success and the party’s chance in the next presidential election.

The reignited nomination scandal forced the Park faction to lose another potential contender in the leadership election. Rep. Suh, who scored his eighth term in Hwaseong A District in April, said Tuesday that he will not run in the chairmanship race.

Suh said he had seriously thought about running because of many requests, but he decided to stay away because he does not want to stand at the center of the intra-party civil war.

After Suh’s declaration, some Park loyalists expressed their rage toward their adversaries. Rep. Lee Woo-hyun labeled Kim, who recorded conversations with Reps. Yoon and Choi, as “human scumbag” and demanded the party to expel him.

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

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