Korea ruling party's blood boils at Choi's return

Korea ruling party's blood boils at Choi's return
South Korea's former Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan
PHOTO: Reuters

A major factional feud looms at the ruling Saenuri Party upon the imminent return of Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan, the president's top aide with a mission to sway parliamentary election nominations in favour of pro-Park figures.

Choi is coming back to his third-term seat after his successor as finance minister was named in a Cabinet reshuffle Monday.

He is expected to spearhead the faction loyal to President Park Geun-hye, and bracing for his return is the party's chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung, who represents the "non-Park" faction.

The power struggle between the two factions has already been vicious over a series of bills, leadership appointments and other party affairs. And the fight is likely to intensify over the party's nomination rules for the April 13 general elections.

The outnumbered pro-Park faction -- currently led by Supreme Council member Rep. Suh Chung-won -- has been pushing for wider strategic nominations not only in weak battlegrounds, such as the Jeolla provinces, but also in strong regions of metropolitan areas. Through this, the faction aims to expand its clout.

Kim, on the other hand, remains steadfastly set on his defunct open primary project or something similar, vowing to keep the nomination as transparent as possible -- meaning more involvement of voters and ordinary party members and less influence from Park.

Political pundits have said the anticipated power struggle within the Saenuri Party reflects the chronically backward politics of South Korea, where the months before each parliamentary elections are tainted with nomination struggles amid the lack of a fundamental system.

"Saenuri Party has been enjoying steady approval ratings despite the low public popularity of the Park administration and the ruling camp in large part thanks to the internal feud at the opposition NPAD," said Yoon Seong-yi, political professor at Kyung Hee University.

"With Saenuri also falling into the same chaos, the party is likely to suffer a setback. This is the most representative case of Korea's backward politics where those who seize power do not end up seeking fundamental improvements in the nomination process once they win," he added.

With Choi returning to the stage, the pro-Park faction is expected to align more systematically, having direct communication with Cheong Wa Dae through Choi and presidential aide on political affairs Hyun Ki-hwan.

It has been the resolve of the pro-Park faction to build up the party base and eventually seek to hoist a pro-Park member as the party's next chair. Kim's tenure ends in July. The next chairperson has to take on the crucial task of leading the party through the 2017 presidential election.

Kim, who has been dubbed as a likely candidate to run for president, is likely to resign from his position before the end of his term. Based on the party rules, a party chairperson cannot double as presidential candidate.

The Saenuri Party, meanwhile, held the first meeting of its special committee on nomination rules Tuesday. Wary of the looming factional battle, the party members were seen to take a cautious approach in public.

"It is hoped that (the members) will refrain from (making moves) that can be perceived as a factional problem by people," said Rep. Hong Moon-pyo, the party's first deputy secretary-general.

Kim, for his part, began to meet with high profile potential parliamentary candidates, starting off with Ahn Dae-hee, former prime minister-nominee, who he met Tuesday. Kim said he will also meet former FIFA presidential hopeful Chung Mong-joon, former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and ex-Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik.

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