Floor leader meets education minister; reformist calls for easing Pyongyang stance
Conflict among ruling Grand National Party legislators over policy directions intensified Wednesday, as the party’s new leaders pushed forward a plan to reduce college tuition fees despite resistance from the old guard.
Rep. Hwang Woo-yea, floor leader and acting chairman of the conservative ruling bloc, met Wednesday with Education Minister Lee Ju-ho to discuss ways to realize the tuition cut.
“We shared views on ways to reduce the tuition burden on students from the low-income bracket,” he said.
The party is considering ways to drastically expand government scholarship programs to cover students from households in the bottom 50 percent income bracket, Hwang said.
“The party will devise a draft plan and will hold coordination meetings with the government,” Hwang said.
The tuition cut plan is at the center of a simmering conflict between the two main GNP factions divided by political ideology and underlying policies.
Younger, reform-oriented legislators, who back Rep. Hwang, stress that the party must take centrist reforms and work to deliver greater welfare for the poor, in order to rebuild public support.
The faction gained power in the GNP, after the party suffered a defeat in by-elections last month.
Former party leaders, backed by a larger group of members loyal to President Lee Myung-bak, resigned en masse to take responsibility for the election debacle.
President Lee and the GNP old guard, for their part, worry recent moves by reformists risk losing the party’s traditional conservative supporters, as they can be seen as a departure from the party’s conservative identity.
The conflict is spilling over to North Korean policy, a key issue that divides the nation’s political spectrum into left and right. While conservatives stress a stern response to provocations by the communist state, the liberals are more dovish, calling for continued engagement with the reclusive state.
Rep. Nam Kyung-pil, a reformist member of the GNP, urged President Lee to reconsider his hawkish stance on the communist state. He said the government needs to reconsider its ban on economic cooperation with the North and humanitarian aid to the impoverished country. The main opposition Democratic Party and leftist groups have made the same plea.
In May last year, South Korea has severed inter-Korean exchange programs and cut off humanitarian aid to the communist state in retaliation of its fatal attack in March that year of one of South Korean naval vessels.
“The measures taken on May 24, 2010, were intended at making North Korean pay the consequences of its brutal attack on Cheonan, but it is not North Korea but South Korean companies (with trade links with the North) and consumers who are in pain now,” Rep. Nam said.
By Lee Sun-young (email@example.com