Primary rule debate confines Saenuri

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 13, 2012 - 20:36
  • Updated : Jun 13, 2012 - 20:36
Standoff over how to select presidential candidate overshadows panel meeting

The ruling Saenuri Party officially entered nomination mode Wednesday by holding its first preparatory committee meeting, but the mood was overcast by stubborn demands from dissenting presidential hopefuls to change the primary rules.

The trio ― Reps. Chung Mong-joon and Lee Jae-oh and Gyeonggi Gov. Kim Moon-soo ― refused on Wednesday the leadership’s latest proposal to meet and discuss ways to review the primary rules.

“We have not received any formal proposal from Chairman Hwang (for such a discussion). We deeply regret such a manner and deem it to be a discourtesy toward the party’s presidential candidates,” the delegates of the three said in a press release.

Saenuri chairman Hwang Woo-yea had proposed through his chief secretary in a press briefing Tuesday to meet with the trio, indicating he was considering four different methods for discussing the primary rules.

They included: bringing the discussion to the Supreme Council; setting up a communication channel under the Supreme Council; installing the channel under the election committee; or setting up an independent body.

Compromise between the main and non-mainstream factions appeared distant as they butted heads over the proposed options.

The pro-Park members reportedly support discussing the rules at the Supreme Council, while the non-mainstreamers back an exclusive body.

“The party is engaged in a cumbersome debate over a matter that is not critical, especially in the eyes of the public,” said politics professor Yoon Pyung-joong at Hanshin University.

“Prolonged controversy will not be desirable for the political future of not only the Saenuri Party but also Park Geun-hye,” Yoon said, adding that a show of flexibility would be the answer to the standoff.

The underdogs remain dead set on fully opening up the primaries to non-party citizens.

“An open primary is a must for the success of the presidential election,” Kim Moon-soo told party members in a letter on Wednesday.

“We must create drama so that we receive the people’s interest and blessing by holding the open primary instead of dully upholding a single candidate,” Kim said, apparently targeting the party’s top presidential candidate, former chairwoman Park Geun-hye. Lee, Chung and Kim have threatened to boycott the primary unless their demand for an open primary is met.

The primary rule controversy showed signs of escalation, potentially involving calls for party defection.

“Some (non-Park members) may be openly talking about boycotting (the primary), even though he was not even willing to participate in the primary in the first place, only for his own personal political interest,” Rep. Kim Jae-won said in a radio interview, without specifying who he was referring to.

“Candidate Sohn Hak-kyu, for instance, demanded the same open primary in the 2007 (presidential) race and eventually left the party. I wonder if (these three) are really only seeking the primary rule change, or whether they have other conditions in mind,” Kim said. Sohn, a former member of the Grand National Party that was the precursor to the Saenuri, is currently a Democratic United Party member and is set to declare his presidential bid on Thursday.

Rep. Lee Jae-oh also commented on the possibility of party defection, but from a different point of view.

“They must have played the game of baduk (a Korean board game) thinking that the (non-Parks) would either sit still or leave (the party),” he said in a television interview earlier this week regarding the leadership’s decision to launch the election committee.

The non-mainstreamers argue that an open primary is necessary in order to accurately reflect the wishes of the people, while the pro-Park faction are opposed saying it is costly and overlooks the rights of the party members.

The election preparatory committee, meanwhile, agreed to meet twice every week and to begin accepting candidate registrations starting Thursday.

By Lee Joo-hee (