Saenuri leaders support Hwang

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Saenuri leaders support Hwang

The ruling Saenuri Party leadership on Tuesday expressed its open approval of Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the acting president, as his approval rating has neared a two-digit level in recent polls.

The ruling party’s stance on the acting head of state, who has been filling in for President Park Geun-hye, impeached on Dec. 9, signaled a shift from its previous call for former UN chief Ban Ki-moon to join the party and run as its candidate for president.

Saenuri interim chief In Myung-jin said Tuesday Hwang’s approval rating in recent polls suggest the public has given the party permission to field its own presidential candidate because the acting president is widely associated with Saenuri, though he is not a party member.

In went on to say such a figure is a sign of public endorsement for the Saenuri to compete in the presidential race. His remark was interpreted as a message to the former justice minister that he should represent the conservative bloc.

Saenuri floor leader Chung Woo-taik echoed In’s message, saying in a radio interview with MBC Tuesday that his party would have no reason to block Hwang’s entry into the party primary if he wished to do so. “By all accounts, it is proven that he is a man of integrity,” continued the floor leader.

While Ban is suffering from a lower than expected approval rating, despite his active national promotion tour, Hwang, a lifelong prosecutor who built his career on rounding up people with pro-North beliefs, has emerged as a potentially viable contender with an approval rating nearing 10 percent.

In a poll conducted by Embrain on Jan. 23 and 24, Hwang came in fourth with 7.9 percent, trailing Ban’s 16 percent and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung’s 10.7 percent. Moon Jai-in was ahead with 31.6 percent.

Higher than expected support for Hwang is attributed to conservative voters who have grown disenchanted with Ban’s political skills, demonstrated over the past three weeks since his return home. While the former diplomat has been harsh in criticizing the political establishment and calling for change, experts say he has failed to say how he will achieve his objective.

Critics also say Ban is reluctant to present his own policy ideas or opinions for that matter, a trait that can be traced back to his 40-year career in bureaucracy.

With his approval rating showing no signs of bouncing back, Ban once again pressed party leaders to come to the table to agree on the Constitutional amendment so it can be revised before the presidential election, which can take place as early as spring.

“I am willing to shorten the presidential term (if elected) so that the next presidential election can take place alongside the general election in 2020,” stressed the 72-year-old.

When asked about his opinion of President Park’s recent interview with an internet media outlet, in which she denied all charges against her and claimed all allegations were “a conspiracy premeditated from a long time ago,” the lifelong diplomat said, “I read damning statements from other party leaders on the interview. I have refrained from expressing my opinions because I do not belong to a political affiliation.”

He added it was “inappropriate” for Park to give such an interview when she is suspended from presidential power under impeachment.

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

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