Reps. Choi Kyung-hwan and Lee Ju-young are competing to replace current floor leader Rep. Lee Hahn-koo, whose term ends on May 30.
Choi and Lee are teaming up respectively with Reps. Kim Gi-hyeon and Chang Yoon-seok, who both eye the post of the party’s committee policy chairman. Kim resigned as the party’s floor spokesman Friday before joining the race.
Both floor leader hopefuls are members of the pro-Park Geun-hye faction of the ruling party, with Choi having longer and closer ties to the president.
While Choi and Lee are categorized as pro-Park, they have both chosen lawmakers with closer ties to the pro-Lee Myung-bak faction as part of efforts to achieve balance within the prevailing party.
Although the candidates have already been lined up, the ruling party has yet to set the date for the election with the prevailing opinion being that the current leaders should see the negotiations over the supplementary budget through.
“The plan was to hold the election on May 7 or 8, but calls for it to be put back to May 15 or 16 are rising,” Saenuri Party chairman Rep. Hwang Woo-yea told reporters on Friday.
Although the ruling party and the main opposition Democratic United Party have been negotiating over the budget supplementation plans, the two remain divided over the portion of the 17.3 trillion won ($15.6 billion) fund that will be used to compensate for the fall in the government’s tax revenues.
In addition, the issue of alleged election interference by the National Intelligence Service during last year’s presidential election is fueling concerns that the budget supplementation plans could be further delayed.
If the budget supplementation plans are not processed during the current parliamentary session, which can be extended until May 7, delays in the Saenuri Party’s floor leader election will be inevitable.
In addition to the scheduled floor leader change, the Saenuri Party’s internal power structure is likely to undergo a shift following Reps. Kim Moo-sung and Rep. Lee Wan-koo’s return to the National Assembly.
Kim and Lee were elected into the parliament in Wednesday’s by-elections respectively taking Busan’s Yeongdo and South Chungcheong Province’s Buyeo-Cheongyang constituencies in landslide victories.
Kim is a five-term lawmaker and a key ally of President Park Geun-hye, who has been close to the conservatives’ center of power for much of his political career.
He has also served as the floor leader of the Grand National Party, which has since revamped itself as the Saenuri Party.
Although Kim has denied speculation that he has his sights on the party chairmanship, he has made it clear that he is seeking to play a major role by becoming the “number one contributor in bringing this administration to success.”
Although Lee is not a member of the so-called pro-Park faction, the actions he took in response to the Lee Myung-bak administration’s stance on Sejong City are thought to have brought him a step closer to the president.
Both Lee and Park strongly opposed the previous government’s attempt to overhaul the plans to establish Sejong City as the administrative capital, and in 2009 Lee resigned as the South Chungcheong governor in protest.
In addition, observers say that Saenuri lawmakers representing the constituencies in the Chungcheong provinces are likely to rally to Lee, consolidating his presence within the party.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)