Despite serving six terms in the National Assembly, Suh Chung-won had almost been forgotten ― or remembered only as a corrupt, seasoned old-guard ally of President Park Geun-hye.
The veteran spectacularly returned to politics Wednesday with a sweeping by-election win, proving himself still a force to be reckoned with.
Political watchers widely expect his return to set off major changes both within the ruling Saenuri Party and in its relations with the opposition.
Suh, who took Gyeonggi Province’s Hwaseong-A constituency, has a long-running relationship with Park, which has earned him the description the “original pro-Park” National Assemblyman.
He has been a staunch supporter of Park for more than a decade and he orchestrated the formation of the pro-Park Geun-hye Alliance, which took 14 parliamentary seats in 2008.
As such, Suh is widely expected to concentrate the Saenuri Party’s clout behind the president. The veteran politician is considered by some as being the president’s inside man handpicked to keep those contending for dominance in check.
In addition to his connection to the president, the 70-year-old has political seniority that is matched only by Rep. Chung Mong-joon of the same party.
Suh and Chung are the only two incumbent lawmakers who are on their seventh term.
During his career, which spans more than three decades, Suh is said to have built up a wide network that gives him a unique edge in mediating between the conservative and progressive blocs. Suh’s life in politics began as a member of former President Kim Young-sam’s faction, and his career began in earnest in 1981 when he was elected to the parliament for the first time. From then on, he went onto hold key posts within the Kim Young-sam administration and within the New Korea Party to rise as one of the most influential figures of the time.
The New Korea Party is a party formed by merging three parties under Kim’s lead that fueled his presidential election victory in 1992.
“Suh Chung-won is someone who knows the opposition very well, so amiable relations between ruling and opposition (parties) could be established,” Myongji University professor Shin Yul said.
Suh’s career has been as tumultuous as it is long.
In 2002, he was jailed for receiving illegal donations, and in 2007 his decision to support President Park’s bid for the Grand National Party leadership cost him the party nomination in the following year’s general election.
Although he appeared to be making a dramatic comeback through the pro-Park Geun-hye Alliance, he was again found guilty of receiving illegal donations in 2008.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com