Ruling party begins to slowly pull itself apart

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Ruling party begins to slowly pull itself apart

An internal rift at the ruling Saenuri Party deepened Monday as the party’s new floor leader opposed to giving full authority to Rep. Yoo Seong-min to steer party affairs as Yoo had demanded, a refusal that led to an ultimatum by non-Park Geun-hye loyalists that they would defect from the party unless the pro-Park faction accepts the demand.

Saenuri floor leader Chung Woo-taik, a four-term lawmaker who was elected Friday in a surprising victory, made clear his opposition to Yoo, a prominent Park adversary, becoming the party’s emergency council chief, saying he would not support a candidate who would cause internal conflict.

“The new emergency council chief should not be taken by someone who would be likely to cause internal conflict and division,” said Chung before reporters. Chung’s remark was seen as his clear rejection of a proposal floated among non-Park loyalists that Yoo should take full control of the party.

Yoo, a four-term lawmaker who represents a conservative Daegu district, a stronghold for the Saenuri, said he was willing to take a “poisoned chalice” by dedicating himself to restoring what is left of the party as an acting chief. But Yoo said that he should be given “full authority” as emergency council chief and made it clear he would not accept any alternative.

In response to Chung’s refusal, non-Park loyalists in the Saenuri gave an ultimatum on Monday that unless Yoo assumes control they will leave en masse to create a new party.

Rep. Choung Byoung-gug, who informally represented a group of Saenuri lawmakers who voted to impeach the president, told reporters Monday that 15 party members were with him as of Monday morning, a figure that could increase. Rep. Choung, a five-term lawmaker, emphasized if the demand was not met, it would lead to mass defection and the creation of a new party.

Yoo was once President Park’s early supporter and helped her during the party primary to win a nomination in 2007, serving as her economic advisor.

Park lost to her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, in the 2007 primary.

Yoo, who has a Ph.D. in economics from Wisconsin University, had a public falling out with Park last year when he championed a number of policies at odds with the Park government while serving as the party floor leader.

It is no secret that President Park pressured party leadership members aligned with the pro-Park faction to deny Yoo a party nomination for the April general elections. Yoo won his fourth term as an independent and returned to join the party after the election.

Yoo’s demand for full authority was met with protest and scorn from Park loyalists, who showed Friday they still held significant clout in the beleaguered party despite overwhelming support for the impeachment motion with the election of Chung Woo-taik, who is one of their own.

But while members of Park’s loyal club succeeded in holding onto power with the Friday election result, the Saenuri’s approval rating nosedived to 15 percent in the latest poll conducted by Gallup Korea, which showed its rival Minjoo Party enjoying a 40-percent approval rating.

If Yoo assumes complete authority, the 58-year-old former economist is expected to concentrate his political capital on driving out pro-Park elements and distancing the country’s only conservative party from President Park.

With the Saenuri leadership’s rejection of Yoo, calls for mass defection heightened Monday among a group of Park adversaries, virtually led by Yoo and former Saenuri chairman Kim Moo-sung.

Former Saenuri chief Kim already indicated his intention to defect and create a new party. He said last week he would make up his mind in a week.

Should Yoo decide to desert the Saenuri, it is anyone’s guess how many Saenuri lawmakers will join him as leaving the party means entering unchartered territory to create a new conservative party to rival the longstanding Saenuri. Observers say up to 40 Saenuri lawmakers could join the move.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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