Published : 2013-10-30 22:12
Updated : 2013-10-30 22:12
The return of veteran politician Suh Chung-won to the parliament is expected to trigger a major shift of power within the ruling Saenuri Party and boost President Park Geun-hye’s mandate to govern.
The former party leader and close ally to Park won his seventh term as lawmaker by winning the by-election in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. Park Myung-jae from the same party scored a landslide win in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.
Although high-level Saenuri Party officials have indicated otherwise, Suh appears unlikely to settle for a parliamentary seat.
“(If elected into a) seventh term, I will unite the party so that the Saenuri Party can use all its capabilities to support the smooth operations of the Park Geun-hye administration,” Suh said on Tuesday, the last day of his campaign.
Suh played a central role in forming the Pro-Park Geun-hye Alliance in 2008. The pro-Park Geun-hye Alliance was a short-lived party that had splintered off from the Grand National Party. The group rejoined the GNP to form the Saenuri Party in early 2012, and its members went onto form the pro-Park faction that contended with the pro-Lee Myung-bak faction for dominance within the party.
In addition, returning for his seventh term, Suh also outmatches the two key pro-Park figures Reps. Kim Moo-sung and Choi Kyung-hwan in terms of seniority, a factor that carries significant weight in local politics. Choi, the current Saenuri Party floor leader, is in his third term and Kim is serving his fifth term.
Despite Suh’s connections and experience, however, the expansion of Suh’s influence is unlikely to be without resistance.
Rep. Kim Sung-tae and a number of first- and second-term Saenuri Party lawmakers met Suh’s nomination with public berating of the party’s leadership for breaking the promise of excluding individuals with records of sex crimes, bribery, and breaking regulations regarding political funding and primaries. Suh has been convicted of receiving illegal donations in 2002 and 2008.
However, some in the opposition bloc are hoping for the veteran politician to bring changes in the dynamics between the conservatives and the progressives.
“(Suh) is someone who could open the way for communication between the ruling and opposition parties,” former floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party Rep. Park Jie-won said in a radio interview earlier in the month, adding that Suh possessed leadership regardless of the questions regarding his ethicalities.
The prevailing opinion among opposition lawmakers, however, has been negative, casting doubt on possible improvements in bipartisan relations.
Following Suh’s nomination in early October, the DP issued an official statement saying that it was the “pinnacle of arrogance” that turned on “public sentiment and the principles the Saenuri Party drew up itself.”
As for the DP, the defeats will spell further weakening of its position in ongoing partisan fighting over social welfare, tax and the intelligence agencies’ alleged meddling in last year’s presidential election.
The 70-year-old will not only act as an anchor for Park within the ruling party, but also keep others contending for dominance in check. For the DP, not only does Suh’s victory confirm Park’s influence on the Saenuri Party but on public sentiment, which it claims to be in closer touch with than the ruling party.
In addition, the defeat of its candidates will undermine its self-proclaimed role of protector of democracy, all the more so due to its decision to market the by-elections as a “judgment on the Park Geun-hye administration.”
In addition, Wednesday’s developments will deal a direct blow to Rep. Kim Han-gil’s leadership, the efficacy of which has already faced doubt on a number of occasions.
Under Kim’s lead, the DP has rolled out one attack after another against the government and the ruling party with little visible effect.
The DP chairman staged a prolonged street campaign to rally the public and pressure the president into addressing the National Intelligence Service election interference scandal, which only resulted in the president publicly rejecting all of DP’s demands.
Such developments will in turn likely shore up the calls from DP lawmakers to change the party’s tactics, and further weaken the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction’s position.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)