New GNP leader takes helmA three-time cabinet minister in former President Roh Tae-woo’s administration, Representative Choe Byung-yul, was named yesterday as the new leader of the opposition Grand National Party. Mr. Choe, 65, is a four-term member of the National Assembly.
Mr. Choe bested five other candidates in a party election conducted earlier this week. He was named to the post at a party convention in southern Seoul yesterday.
He won 36 percent of the nearly 129,000 votes cast by party delegates, edging out Suh Chung-won by 3,000 votes.
Mr. Choe’s first order of business, which he alluded to often in his acceptance speech yesterday, is to prepare the party for next year’s National Assembly elections. Although it dominates the Assembly, with 153 seats in the 273-member body, it does not have a veto-overriding majority. The party has also lost the last two presidential elections.
Mr. Suh was the head of the party’s campaign team for the 2002 election, in which Lee Hoi-chang made his second unsuccessful run for the presidency. That association with a failed campaign, some observers said, hurt him in this week’s party election.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Choe zeroed in on partisan political questions. “President Roh Moo-hyun should quit the Millennium Democratic Party and keep his hands off the move to create a new political party,” he said. “If the president transcends partisan interests to focus on state affairs, we are prepared to be a faithful partner for the public’s sake.”
He called on the president to meet regularly with the opposition.
On his party’s proposal for a second independent counsel to conduct a broader investigation of the cash-for-summit scandal, Mr. Choe said, “I urge President Roh to accept the idea.” He added, “If he violates the rules of law and justice because of partisan interests, the public will never forgive him.”
But like many other partisan foes of President Kim Dae-jung and his successor, he said he opposes an investigation that could result in the prosecution of Mr. Kim. The former president won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize largely because of his conciliation policies toward North Korea.
Mr. Choe, whose government experience includes a 1994 stint as Seoul mayor and former Blue House senior secretary for political affairs, called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons development program. “If North Korea gives up its nuclear programs,” he said, “we will provide not only food and fertilizer but also a bold plan to rebuild the North Korean economy with the help of the United States, Japan and other allies to establish a “Korean Peninsula Economic Community.”
by Park Seung-hee
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