Korea's ruling Saenuri Party's factional feud intensifies

South Korea President Park Geun-hye
PHOTO: Reuters

Ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Suh Chung-won, a key loyalist to the president, collided with embattled party chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung on Monday, highlighting the escalating factional tug-of-war over who will take control of the party's nominations for next year's general election.

Taking aim at Kim's remarks during a media interview, the seven-term lawmaker accused the party chair of seeking to sway public opinion to turn candidate nominations in his favour and of unilaterally attempting to determine the nomination process without prior discussion with party members.

Kim had said in the newspaper interview that he would pursue a different form of strategic nomination -- a process in which party leadership strategically nominated disabled and female candidates -- as well as nominating high-profile candidates for constituencies that the party is traditionally weak in. It was considered a step back for Kim who had openly shut out the possibility of a full-fledged strategic nomination, considered to benefit party members loyal to President Park Geun-hye. Suh and other Park loyalists denied they were seeking such a strategic nomination, lambasting Kim for toying with nomination processes unilaterally.

"I will not tolerate an individual trying to sway (the party) the way he wants," Suh said, also referring to Kim's surprise agreement with the main opposition party leader Rep. Moon Jae-in over the adoption of a survey-like nomination procedure for elections.

Kim shot back by saying that Suh should make such remarks at a closed-door meeting.

"It is a shame that my request for distinguishing between public remarks and private comments was denied. We should stop (the fighting) in front of the people," said Kim.

The verbal fight resulted in a failure of establishing an independent panel within the Saenuri Party to determine the nomination rules. The party had decided to seek alternatives that the party had hoped to provide a breakthrough to the stalemate between Kim and pro-Park faction.

The confrontation came amid a partisan stalemate over the reallocating the electoral districts for the 2015 general elections. While rival parties agreed to find ways on Monday to maintain the number of lawmakers elected from constituencies in rural areas, both parties failed to come up with specific measures to address the partisan differences over the rezoning scheme.

The Saenuri Party has insisted that the National Assembly increase the number of lawmakers elected from constituencies and cut the portion of proportional representation while the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy has argued that more lawmakers should be elected through the proportional representation system.

On the sideline of the intensifying in-house scuffle at the Saenuri Party, the main opposition leader Rep. Moon Jae-in urged President Park to withdraw her membership from the ruling party, ramping up his calls for the president to stay away from parliamentary discussion over nominating candidates for next year's general elections.

His remark followed his recent accusation against Park's objection to the party leaders' agreement on nomination rules as regressing democracy. He had described Park's move as "dictatorial attempt" to undermine the democratic rule of separation of power.

"I urge President Park to leave the Saenuri Party and focus on improving the people's livelihood," Moon was quoted as saying by NPAD spokesman Rep. Kim Yung-rok. "Park's desire for post-presidency power should not distract our efforts to reform nomination procedure for elections," said Kim.

The Saenuri Party, for its part, dismissed Moon's call. "We cannot tolerate the opposition party's comments on Park," said the Saenuri Party spokesman Rep. Kim Young-woo, calling it "incomprehensible" and "laughable."