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[Newsmaker] Saenuri’s nomination fight turns ugly

A former presidential aide’s derogatory comment about the ruling party’s leader sent ripples through the political community Wednesday, intensifying factional infighting over the party’s nominations for the April general elections.

In a taped telephone conversation leaked to local media on Tuesday, Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the Saenuri Party, who had served as a presidential adviser on political affairs in 2015, said that he would “eliminate” his party leader Rep. Kim Moo-sung to block his attempt to sway the nomination process in his favor.

“I am going to kill Kim Moo-sung,” said the second-term lawmaker during a conversation with an individual he refused to identify. “I am going to single out (expletives) and block him from being nominated as a candidate for the elections,” Yoon said.

Admitting to making the comments, Yoon noted that he was drunk at that time and attempted to apologize to Kim. Kim refused to accept the apology by avoiding Yoon when he came to visit at his office.

The Saenuri Party leader Rep. Kim Moo-sung. Yonhap
The Saenuri Party leader Rep. Kim Moo-sung. Yonhap

The comments by a long-time loyalist to President Park Geun-hye added fuel to the factional feud, which has been escalating since Rep. Chung Doo-un alleged on Sunday that the pro-Park faction is plotting to dominate the conservative party’s nomination process.

Chung claimed that chairman Kim allegedly nudged him about the existence of a secret list of party members branded as “unqualified” candidates to be nominated. It was reported that the list mostly included members from the non-Park faction.

Kim has downplayed Chung’s claim but the incident exemplified the long-standing clash between the non-Park faction led by the chairman and the pro-Park faction over the rule on determining candidates for the elections.

The Saenuri leadership agrees that Yoon’s remarks crossed the line and they are discussing how much “punishment” will be sufficient, including a nomination ban.

“I think Yoon should leave politics,” said Rep. Hong Moon-jong, the third-term lawmaker who is classified as those against the pro-Park faction. “Keeping Yoon as a party member would be harmful to the party particularly when we head into the elections,” Hong said.

Rep. Lee Jae-oh asserted that the party should find out whether loyalists to President Park have actually been mobilized to influence the nomination process, urging Yoon to identify the person that he had talked with. “It must be someone who holds sway over the nomination process,” Lee said.

Yoon and his ally in the pro-Park faction contended that the scandal was “politically motivated,” saying that someone aiming to undermine his faction illegally wiretapped the telephone conversation and leaked it to the press.

“I wasn’t attempting to intervene in the nomination process,” said Yoon. “I know I have made a terrible mistake, but the allegation is absurd. Additionally, listening in on someone’s private conversation and leaking it to the public is the last thing we should do,” said Yoon.

Rep. Suh Chung-won, a leader of the pro-Park faction, supported Yoon, comparing the scandal to a smear campaign against his faction. “I don’t know whom I can trust in a world where people try to record private conversations and leak it to the media,” Suh said.

By Yeo Jun-suk