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[Newsmaker]Centrists take reins of Saenuri Party

Two centrists of the conservative bloc joined the control tower of the ruling party Tuesday, setting their top priority on resolving the ongoing conflicts with Cheong Wa Dae and the escalating rivalry within the party ahead of next year’s general elections.

Expectations are high on what roles the two middle-grounders would play amid a deepening internal feud between loyalists to President Park Geun-hye and members of the nonmainstream faction within the party.

Rep. Won Yoo-chul, new floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Rep. Won Yoo-chul, new floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Rep. Won Yoo-chul, a four-term lawmaker known as a well-rounded conservative-centrist, was named the new Saenuri floor leader at an inter-party race, taking on the hefty task of mending ties with the presidential office.

Won’s running mate, three-term lawmaker Kim Jung-hoon, will serve as the party’s chief policymaker.

Like Won, Kim, a lawyer-turned-lawmaker, is known to be a middle-of-the-road politician who forged amicable relationships not only with pro-Park members but also with those in the nonmainstream faction.

Rep. Won, representing Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi Province, won the election uncontested. He replaces his former running mate and former floor leader Rep. Yoo Seong-min, who resigned from the post last week after resisting blatant pressure from the presidential office and the pro-Park faction.

Won urged the easing of tension between the party and Cheong Wa Dae, stressing that it is a critical time for both to restore ties ahead of general elections next year and the presidential election in 2017.

“Without the success of the Park administration, there will be no (bright) future for South Korea, nor also for the Saenuri Party,” Won said in his acceptance speech.

Kim also vowed to have a weekly meeting between the party and Cheong Wa Dae to immediately respond to issues closely related to people’s lives.

The new whip said he also would sit down at the negotiation table with the main opposition party by keeping basic principles in mind, defying concerns that he would follow Yoo in going against Park’s major policies.

Park, in a rare strong tone, singled out Yoo for swapping her reform bill with a parliamentary bill pushed by the opposition party. Park’s sharp criticism sparked a brutal in-party feud between her ardent supporters and those who recently opposed the president and her hierarchical stance in the party.

Hoping to move beyond the bitter battle between the party and Cheong Wa Dae, the Saenuri’s new whip and top policymaker are set to meet with President Park on Thursday.

The decision was made after Saenuri leader Kim Moo-sung met with Park’s new political aide Hyun Ki-hwan on Tuesday morning. Hyun, a former Saenuri lawmaker, was named senior presidential secretary of political affairs Friday, demonstrating Park’s hope to restore her relationship with her party.

By Cho Chung-un (