Park opponent emerges as possible Saenuri head

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Park opponent emerges as possible Saenuri head

Rep. Yoo Seong-min, an icon of resistance to President Park Geun-hye, emerged Sunday as a possible candidate to head the ruling party as interim leader, after its newly elected floor leader asked Park opponents to make a nomination in an attempt to save the party from a catastrophic split.

Following a rift between the faction loyal to President Park Geun-hye and the anti-Park faction, the Saenuri Party on Friday elected Rep. Chung Woo-taik, a Park loyalist, as the new floor leader.

After Chung’s election, all Supreme Council members resigned en masse, along with the party chairman, Lee Jung-hyun, giving the newly elected floor leader a dual role as acting party chief until Wednesday, when the party is scheduled to form an emergency council to steer the party.

In an attempt to end the factional split, Chung told the JoongAng Sunday on Saturday that he asked the anti-Park faction to recommend a candidate to head the emergency council. “Because the opinions can vary among the anti-Park faction members,” he said, “I will receive an agreed opinion through Rep. Kim Moo-sung, former chairman of the ruling party.”

The anti-Park faction is currently led by Reps. Kim and Yoo. Chung said he would like to hear Kim’s opinion on the emergency council head because Kim has more experience.

Among Park adversaries, recommending Yoo as the acting head to oversee the emergency council and reform the party quickly gained support. They said appointing Yoo as the acting head would send a message to the public that the party is putting all its efforts into reform.

As speculation grew, Yoo issued a press release Sunday announcing his stance that he was willing to serve as acting head of the party only if he were given full authority to reform it.

“If I will serve as the acting head with full authority over the party reform, I am more than willing to drink from the poisoned chalice,” he said. “But if the position does not come with full authority, then I will not accept any offer.”

Five years ago, the conservative party had a powerful interim head to redefine its corruption-ridden image. Park, who was a lawmaker at the time, took the post and used full authority to change the party’s name from the Grand National Party to the Saenuri Party and appointed outside experts to reinvent its image. She also used her power to purge politicians from her rival faction in the general election nomination process.

“Now is a more serious situation than five years ago,” Yoo told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday. “Eliminating some diehard Park loyalists is also an important part of the party’s reform.”

It remains to be seen if Park loyalists will accept Yoo’s leadership and prevent the party’s split. A mass defection of Park adversaries to create a new conservative party loomed after Chung won the floor leadership. Kim already expressed his intention to leave the Saenuri Party earlier this week when he denounced Park loyalists as “fake conservatives” with a “slave mentality.”

“This week is the crucial moment,” Yoo said. “But I don’t have high expectations that they will accept [me as the party leader].”

Park loyalists immediately rejected the possibility of appointing Yoo as a powerful interim head. “Absolutely no,” said a Park loyalist. “That is like giving a child access to a powder keg.”

Chung also told the JoongAng Ilbo that an acting head candidate must be someone accepted by the other side. “Park adversaries loathe Suh Chung-won and Choi Kyung-hwan,” he said. “And Park loyalists feel the same way about Kim and Yoo. A politician rejected by the other side cannot be the leader.”

Meanwhile, Chung also said he would do his best to dismantle the pro-Park faction and persuade hard-core Park loyalists to step aside from frontline politics in order to end the years-long civil war.

The pro-Park faction tried to support Chung’s proposal. Rep. Cho Won-jin, a key member of the faction, said the faction must be dismantled to support Chung, but the colleagues are split about such a plan.

Cho also said the Park loyalists adamantly oppose the plan that Rep. Yoo become acting head to oversee the emergency council. “Many worried that they will become powerless if Yoo becomes the leader,” he said.

BY SER MYO-JA, JUNG HYO-SIK [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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