The nine contestants for the ruling Saenuri Party’s chairmanship participated in the first TV debate Monday ahead of the leadership election next Tuesday.
Their discussion centered on the party’s strategy to win the December presidential election, economic and welfare policies and measures to restore unity in the party stricken by factional strife.
Next week’s chairperson race is expected to be an easy victory for the party’s incumbent floor leader Rep. Hwang Woo-yea.
The former judge, since he took office last May, has been recognized for his gentle leadership and peaceful communication.
Though largely classified as a non-factional figure, Hwang has formed an amicable relationship with interim leader Park Geun-hye and won the support from pro-Park groups.
The senior lawmaker also reinforced his in-party position by winning his fifth parliamentary term last month in Incheon, Gyeonggi Province, where the party’s general election results did not meet expectations.
The remaining candidates are aiming to gain a place on the five-member Supreme Council membership by making the top four. Rep. Lee Hye-hoon has already secured her ticket to the decision-making body based on the female membership quota rule.
Third-term lawmaker Rep. Yoo Ki-june is considered to have a good chance of joining the leadership council.
Yoo, former party negotiator for the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, is a key member of the party’s pro-Park faction and one of the reform-inclined figures.
The Busan lawmaker expects to harvest votes from Yeongnam-based colleagues, who form an influential group within the party.
Rep. Shin Jae-chul and Won Yoo-chul, both fourth-term lawmakers in Gyeonggi Province, would represent the minority pro-Lee Myung-bak group should either join the leadership.
The party is currently divided over the proposed open primary contest in the presidential nomination.
Aides to party chief and presidential hopeful Rep. Park Geun-hye group disapproved of the idea, whereas reform-minded members claimed that the change was necessary to reflect the voters’ sentiment.
The two non-Park figures advocated the open primary system, an attempt to challenge the seemingly impregnable intra-party reputation of the interim leader.
Park’s faction, however, remained reluctant to back the idea, though it refrained from open denial.
“I doubt we have the time to make changes in the nomination rules at this point,” said Rep. Lee Hye-hoon in a radio interview Monday.
She also blamed non-Park figures for abusing the open primary issue as an opportunity for a political offensive.
While the leadership candidates stepped up their moves, others face the more imminent floor leader election on Wednesday.
The three contestants are fifth-term lawmaker and reformer leader Rep. Nam Kyung-pil, the party’s policy maker Rep. Lee Ju-young and key Park aide Lee Hahn-koo.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)