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[Newsmaker] ‘Big Choi’ maps way back to ruling party

Ahead of the general elections slated for next April, the government and the ruling party are intent on strengthening their campaign front, with Cheong Wa Dae eyeing one particular figure to spearhead the job.

It is considered a matter of time before Choi Kyung-hwan, the deputy prime minister, finance minister, a political heavyweight with experience in both state and parliamentary affairs and, more importantly, with unrivaled confidence bestowed by President Park Geun-hye, returns to his parliamentary post. He currently maintains his third-term seat and is expected to vie for another next year.

Choi Kyung-hwan.   Yonhap
Choi Kyung-hwan.   Yonhap

Nicknamed Big Choi, Choi has recently kick-started his political itinerary to wrap up his administrative function and focus on his role in the National Assembly as a senior lawmaker.

Guardian and executor of President Park Geun-hye’s drive for economic reforms, Choi is considered one of the very few aides who are able to convey the president’s intention with authority.

Signaling his imminent return, Choi has been growing more vocal about the way things should be done at the Assembly.

“The service sector bill has now been pending for more than seven years, and parties have had more than enough time to discuss it,” the minister said at the parliamentary committee of strategy and finance meeting on Monday.

His remark echoed that of the president, who has been pushing parties to endorse a series of pending bills including ones to foster the service industry before the regular parliamentary session adjourns on Wednesday.

The opposition floor perceived this as Choi’s gesture to steer his course toward the ruling party leadership.

“The deputy prime minister speaks as if he were the floor leader of the Saenuri Party,” said Rep. Kim Hyun-mee of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

Observers noted that this is a preview of what will happen next year ― if Choi wins a legislative seat in the general elections, he will position himself as a messenger between administration and parliament.

Choi will be joining other former Cabinet members such as Rep. Yoo Ki-june, former oceans and fisheries minister and member of the party’s Supreme Council, who have been advocating the president’s thoughts since he returned to the parliament in November.

Backing up such predictions, the pro-Park clique is already making moves to offer their full backing for Big Choi.

The National Competitiveness Forum, led by the ruling party’s pro-Park members, will be holding a seminar this week to evaluate and discuss the government’s economic policies, which were dubbed “Choinomics.”

The event is seen as a welcoming event for the returning lawmaker, as well as a rally to unite pro-Park figures ahead of the candidate nomination for the elections.

Choi’s return to the home party, meanwhile, is considered a threat to incumbent chairman Kim Moo-sung who has been holding his ground against the president over a number of key issues, including redistricting the party’s constituencies.

Choi Kyung-hwan, former minister of knowledge economy and incumbent third-term lawmaker of the Saenuri Party, was appointed to his current post in 2014, the second year of Park’s presidency. His close connection to the president dates back to 2007 when he drafted the deregulatory reform plans for then-lawmaker Park. He also served as chief secretary in Park’s camp during the 2012 presidential election season.

By Bae Hyun-jung (