Party Keeps the Heat on Blue House

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Party Keeps the Heat on Blue House

President Kim Dae-jung on Sunday named Lee Sang-joo, president of the Academy of Korean Studies as Blue House Chief of Staff. He also named Son Young-lae as chief of the National Tax Service.

"The new chief of staff has extensive experience in various fields, including education, and is known for his coordinating skills and tolerance," said Park Joon-young, the Blue House spokesman.

Mr. Lee said, "I will assist the president to achieve regional harmony."

As the announcement was made, Representative Kim Keun-tae, a ruling party leader, demanded that Prime Minister Lee Han-dong and the would-be party chairman, Han Kwang-ok, resign voluntarily "for the people and for themselves." Mr. Han is the departing Blue House staff chief and a trusted confidant of the president.

Mr. Kim also called for the dissolution of the Donggyo-dong faction, a group of loyalists that stood by President Kim Dae-jung during his days as an opposition leader in the 1970s and currently comprise the major faction of the ruling party.

"We need to correct the current situation where a specific faction is prevailing in the party. I ask that this faction break up," Mr. Kim said, although he did not explain how such a breakup should be engineered. With those demands, Mr. Kim aired the internal rumblings that have been afflicting the Millennium Democratic Party.

Representative Chyung Dai-chul, also a member of the party's leadership council, said Sunday, "If Prime Minister Lee and the would-be party chairman do not resign, their resignation will be decided by vote at Monday's party conference."

Galvanized by support within the party, members of "Dawn 21," a group of first-term lawmakers, said they would continue their efforts for party reform. But they denied rumors that they would defect to the opposition.

Although first-term Millennium Democrats have come forth before with calls for a revamp of the party's leadership and decision-making mechanisms, open internal revolt against the president's choice for cabinet and party leadership is unprecedented, a sign that the president is losing his control over Korean politics. Presidential and local elections are scheduled next year and party unity, always iffy in Korean politics, once again is beginning to fray. Kim Keun-tae is considered a strong presidential contender and Mr. Chyung has made no secret of his ambition for Korea's highest office.

The Blue House said the president will not retract his decisions on appointments. He is expected to follow up with more changes of party leaders and two or three senior presidential secretaries on Monday. With only 18 months left in office, Kim Dae-jung was forced to realign his cabinet, party leadership and presidential staff leadership following the breakdown of the ruling coalition between the Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats.

by Kim Jin-kook

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