Blue House says Park didn’t force candidate’s hand

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Blue House says Park didn’t force candidate’s hand

The Blue House rejected on Wednesday a snowballing suspicion that President Park Geun-hye influenced the nomination process of the ruling Saenuri Party, following a local media’s latest revelation that her political secretary had strong-armed a candidate to change his constituency before the general election.

Since Monday, TV Chosun aired a string of recorded conversations between Park’s close allies and Kim Sung-hoi, a former lawmaker of the Saenuri Party. Reps. Yoon Sang-hyun and Choi Kyung-hwan of the ruling party, as well as Hyun Ki-hwan, who served as the senior political affairs secretary to the president at the time, talked to Kim in January to pressure him to run in a different district.

They forced Kim, who registered his candidacy for Hwaseong A District, to change his constituency to allow Rep. Suh Chung-won, a key associate of Park and a leader of the faction loyal to the president, to run in the district. Kim subsequently changed his constituency twice, but the party did not award him a nomination. Suh was elected for his eighth term in the district in April.

In the latest recording aired on Tuesday night, Hyun telephoned Kim to make him change his district. Criticizing Kim for having registered his bid in Suh’s constituency, Hyun said, “When you promise me, isn’t it the same as promising the president?”

Hyun also admitted that Kim’s changing constituency was what President Park wanted.

“If that is what the VIP wants, I will obey,” Kim said.

“Yes. So obey it,” Hyun responded.

Among politicians and Blue House officials, the president is often referred as the VIP.

Presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk rejected the Blue House’s tie to the nomination process.

“Hyun made the comment in his personal capacity,” Jung said, “and we do not know why he had said so.”

After the ruling party’s crushing defeat in the April general election, Hyun stepped down from the Blue House post. Suspicions were made previously that Hyun had met with Lee Han-koo, also a Park loyalist and head of the Saenuri Party’s nomination committee, before the April election to discuss candidate selections, but they had both denied it.

The opposition Minjoo Party of Korea said Hyun’s remarks substantiated the suspicion that Park had controlled the nomination process of the ruling party.

“It is baffling to hear Hyun saying that his intention is the president’s intention,” Rep. Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the Minjoo Party, said. “The senior presidential secretary for political affairs confirmed that the president had intervened in the nomination.”

The People’s Party demanded that the National Election Commission formally launch an investigation into the Blue House and Park loyalists’ intervention in the nomination process. “This is a clear violation of the election law,” Rep. Park Jie-won, floor leader of the party, said. “If no probe is launched, that is a dereliction of duty.”

The National Election Commission has said it will launch an investigation if an official request is made by the Saenuri Party.

[ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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