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New Saenuri leadership may weaken Park

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Published : 2014-07-15 20:59
Updated : 2014-07-16 10:06

The election of a nonmainstream lawmaker as the ruling Saenuri Party’s chairman is likely to end the dominance of the mainstream pro-Park Geun-hye faction in the governing party, balancing relations between the ruling party and the president.

Critics had charged that the pro-Park faction functioned as President Park Geun-hye’s political pond within the parliament. Pro-Park members increased partisan bickering by attempting to forcibly bulldoze key legislation that the president favored, they said.

As party chair, Rep. Kim Moo-sung will ease partisan divisions over legislation according to experts. Kim will likely allow nonmainstream Saenuri lawmakers, who are not necessarily aligned with Park, to increase dialog with the opposition.

Political watchers expressed mixed opinions on whether such a change could drive the president into lame-duck status earlier than expected.

“I would say President Park Geun-hye is already a lame duck,” Choi Young-jin, professor of Korean politics at Chung-Ang University, said.

“She will not be able to go ahead with her political agenda without negotiating with the opposition from now on.”

A drop in Park’s public ratings and the rise of nonmainstream members of the ruling party would force her to choose between becoming a lame duck and cooperating with the opposition, Choi said.
President Park Geun-hye (right) meets the ruling Saenuri Party’s new leadership Tuesday at Cheong Wa Dae. Rep. Kim Moo-sung (center) was elected as Saenuri chairman at the party’s national convention on Monday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Data showed Park’s approval ratings had dropped even before Kim defeated pro-Park Rep. Suh Chung-won to become the party chair at Monday’s Saenuri Party convention.

The president’s ratings peaked at 61 percent in early April, according to Gallup Korea, but had dipped to 43 as of last week.

Pundits said the drop reflected worsening public opinion over the recent prime ministerial nomination debacles.

Two prime minister nominees handpicked by Park withdrew their names over allegations that cast doubts on their characters. Ahn Dae-hee, a former Supreme Court justice, was suspected of receiving an excessively high salary after retiring from the nation’s top court. Moon Chang-keuk was accused of holding extreme right-wing political views, sparking public criticism that he was not “balanced” enough to become prime minister.

Park eventually kept incumbent Chung Hong-won in office. Chung had originally said he would resign to take responsibility for the government’s botched rescue operations after the April ferry disaster that left more than 300 dead or missing.

But Kim’s rise does not necessarily spell trouble for Park.

“(Kim’s election to the Saenuri chair) is actually better for Park,” Yang Seung-ham, professor of politics at Yonsei University, said.

A nonmainstream lawmaker will be able to better negotiate with the opposition, allowing key bills to pass at parliament, Yang said.

“This will raise Park’s ratings because she will be able to go through with her agenda.”

Kim’s triumph struck an upbeat note with the opposition. Kim is considered to be an experienced negotiator who will be able to mediate political differences between Cheong Wa Dae and the opposition better than his predecessor Rep. Hwang Woo-yea, another member of the pro-Park faction.

“People who say Kim’s election will make Park a lame duck don’t know what they’re talking about. Kim will balance Park with the opposition, and thereby enhance Park’s image,” Yang said.

Kim was considered a member of the pro-Park faction, until the five-term lawmaker had a falling out with the president in 2009. Kim was a candidate for the conservative party’s floor leader position in 2009 but Park, who was a senior member of the Grand National Party at the time, opposed Kim’s nomination. The GNP is the forerunner of the Saenuri Party.

On Tuesday, Park and Kim agreed to cooperate at a meeting in Cheong Wa Dae.

“We’re on the same boat,” Kim told the president.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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