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Rival parties elect new floor leaders

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Published : 2014-05-08 21:17
Updated : 2014-05-08 22:08

Rep. Park Young-sun took over as floor leader of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy Thursday, becoming the first woman to lead a political party in the National Assembly.

Park’s Saenuri Party counterpart is to be Rep. Lee Wan-koo, who took the post in an uncontested race.

Park, a three-term lawmaker who began her career as a journalist for the broadcaster MBC and entered politics in 2004 as a proportional representative for the defunct Uri Party.

Park is considered a hard-liner who has served in prominent roles in pressuring the ruling party and the government including as the chair of the NPAD predecessor’s committee for uncovering alleged corruption of the Lee Myung-bak government. 
(From left) Lee Wan-koo (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald), Park Young-sun (Yonhap)

At a press conference following her election, Park called for the National Assembly to be opened for an extraordinary session in May, saying that Sewol-related issues must be given priority.

“The first thing I must do now is getting a special act on the Sewol approved. The special act will include acts for the victims and for preventing recurrences,” Park told reporters at a press conference.

Citing the U.S.’ report on the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Park added that the party would benchmark the report in handling the ferry disaster.

Lee Wan-koo is one of the most prominent pro-Park figures from the Chungcheong provinces, and is also the first ruling party floor leader to come from the region, over which the country’s main conservative party has had a fairly weak hold.

The third-term lawmaker began his career as a civil servant and went on to serve as the chief of police for the Chungcheong provinces before entering politics in 1996.

In 2006 Lee was elected as governor of South Chungcheong Province, but resigned in protest against the Lee Myung-bak administration’s failed attempt to alter the plans for Sejong City. He reentered the National Assembly in the by-elections of April 2013.

His position on Sejong City brought him close to President Park Geun-hye, who also fought to keep the original plans laid out under late President Roh Moo-hyun.

At his first press conference as floor leader, Lee said that he would make fresh efforts to represent the will of the people.

“I think that the party, government and Cheong Wa Dae (relationship) is healthy. But, I will try to convey public opinion more directly to Cheong Wa Dae, (the need for which) can be seen in the (reaction to the) Sewol incident,” Lee said.

Along with Lee, Rep. Joo Ho-young took over the ruling party’s policy committee.

Joo is considered a member of the pro-Lee Myung-bak faction, the ruling party’s other main faction.

The change of floor leadership comes at a time when difficult tasks lay ahead for both parties. The ruling party’s position is thought to have been undermined by the growing mistrust of the government prompted by the developments surrounding the sinking of the Sewol. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, for its part, has been experiencing increasing internal friction, with growing discord over candidate nominations for the June 4 local elections.

In addition, the new floor leaders will also be tasked with reaching common ground over developments surrounding the Sewol.

The ruling party has so far parried away the main opposition’s demands for special counsel and parliamentary investigations without giving a clear answer.

After saying only that the time was not right, Saenuri Party chairman Rep. Hwang Woo-yea and Lee Wan-koo said Thursday that the party would consider such measures, but only after the situation has been dealt with.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)

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