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Primary rule debate heats up at Saenuri

Underdogs threaten to boycott nomination race

The dispute over the presidential primary rules is boiling at the ruling Saenuri Party as the party’s underdogs threatened to boycott the race, which they claim favors frontrunner Park Geun-hye.

The primary rules were expected to take center stage at the Saenuri’s two-day workshop for the 19th National Assembly members in Cheonan that started Friday.

The party decided to form a primary committee Monday, prompting vehement protests from the non-mainstreamers, who called for a revision of the rules first.

The underdogs, including Reps. Chung Mong-joon, Lee Jae-oh and Gyeonggi Gov. Kim Moon-soo, met on Thursday night and reportedly agreed to lodge a strong complaint with the leadership over the weekend with the possibility of boycotting the primary if necessary.

All three have declared their presidential bids, while Park is yet to officially throw her hat into the ring.

The three demand an open primary, arguing the current system is favorable toward former chairwoman Park, who enjoys wide in-party support.

Under the current regulations, the party elects its presidential candidate by combining about 50 percent of votes from party members and the other half from outside citizens.

The minor presidential hopefuls call for a 100 percent vote by citizens.

“How will they (pro-Park) manage to win over the support of people in the presidential election if they resort to an easy primary,” Rep. Lee said in a radio interview with SBS.

Rep. Ahn Hyo-dae and former lawmakers Kwon Taek-gi and Cha Myung-jin ― who are each considered pseudo-spokesmen for the three contenders ― released a statement on Friday that said, “The election committee launching without rules that reflect the views of the contenders is meaningless. If the party leadership fails to maintain its neutrality, it will ultimately hurt the harmony of the party.”

Rep. Shim Jae-chul from the non-mainstream faction also demanded during the Supreme Council meeting that the party delay the primary set for August 21 and install a division within the election committee to adjust the primary rules.

The leadership led by Chairman Hwang Woo-yea, however, is unconvinced about changing the rules that Park fully backs.

Earlier, Hwang said, “We will not be setting up a separate committee to negotiate the primary rules. The primary rules can be discussed at the Supreme Council to be later voted by standing nationwide committees.”

Park, who has solidified her partisan support upon the April 11 general elections win, has a sour history with the presidential primary.

In 2007, after wrangling over the primary rules for over two months, Park lost to her contender President Lee Myung-bak by a narrow margin of 1.5 percent for the then-Grand National Party’s presidential nomination. Although Park led Lee in the votes by party delegates, she lost to Lee overall as Lee garnered more public votes.

Now, the pro-Park leadership is set on conducting the primary 120 days prior to the Dec. 19 election day as specified in the party regulations. The minor contenders argue the nomination should be completed around September or October in time with the anticipated candidate selection by the opposition forces.

While the pro-Park faction is open to discussing ways to expand the electoral college but keeping the overall structure, the non-mainstreamers demand a completely open primary.

Saenuri Party members, in the meantime, plan to discuss ways to reform the National Assembly, along with pending pledges to better public economy at the workshop.

The party on Thursday announced six-set measures to restrict lawmakers’ privileges such as banning second jobs and stripping lawmakers of their right of exemption from arrest.

By Lee Joo-hee (
Korea Herald Youtube