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Ruling party rows over Lee ally’s selection

The ruling Saenuri Party’s leadership argued Monday over the selection of Rep. Lee Jae-oh, a close ally of President Lee Myung-bak, as a candidate for the general election.

The party’s candidate selection committee announced the nomination of Lee, but immediately faced opposition from some party leaders who had openly called on him to step aside to take responsibility for the damage the president and his confidants have done to the party’s support.

Committee head Jung Hong-won announced the first 21 candidates Monday at a press briefing at the National Assembly in Seoul.

The announcement defied a decision by the party’s leadership council to defer its approval of the list. The council demanded reconsideration of Lee’s nomination.

Jung’s committee later finalized the selection of Lee in an unanimous decision. 
Lee Jae-oh
Lee Jae-oh

Lee will run for a fifth-term in his long-time constituency in Eunpyeong, northwestern Seoul. He has been sidelined by the new Saenuri leadership led by Park Geun-hye, the president’s former in-party rival and potential successor as president. Under Park, the party is trying to distance itself from the incumbent president.

Polls show that the ruling party may lose its majority status in the 299-member unicameral parliament in the election amid strong public backlash against the incumbent administration over a deepening economic polarization and a series of corruption scandals involving the president’s allies.

Also announced Monday was the designation of 22 constituencies, including several in Seoul’s up-market residential districts of Gangnam, as “strategic battlegrounds” where the committee will nominate a candidate without an open nomination process.

Gangnam has been considered a stronghold for the conservatives, but Saenuri is facing tough competition from liberal opponents, polls show.

Busan’s Sasang constituency is also included in the 22, with reports suggesting that the party is considering putting 27-year-old political novice Sohn Soo-jo up against Moon Jae-in, a rising presidential contender of the main opposition Democratic United Party.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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