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[Newsmaker] Minjoo chief unfazed by party pressure

Since taking his post in January, the main opposition party’s interim leader Kim Chong-in has been doing something that his predecessors have avoided in the past: driving out the elderly power brokers and outspoken liberal fighters

First on Kim’s list was Rep. Moon hee-Sang, who had chaired the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, the predecessor to the Minjoo Party of Korea, from 2013 to 2014. Kim forced him to withdraw his bid to run for the April general election. Moon accepted the decision, though reluctantly.

The next target was the hard-line wing of the liberal party. Rep. Jung Chung-rae, the second-term lawmaker known for his combative rhetoric against the conservatives, and Rep. Lee Hae-chan, the former prime minister during the late Roh Moo-hyun administration, was excluded from the party’s nomination list.

Shocked and angered, the pro-Roh loyalists defied the call. “I am not going to succumb to injustice,” said Lee when he announced his bid to run in the election as an independent. Jung filed a complaint against the party’s decision and his supporters have staged sit-ins in front of the party’s headquarters.

Minjoo Party chief Kim Chong-in (Yonhap)

Minjoo Party chief Kim Chong-in (Yonhap)
Such moves added pressure on the leadership of interim chairman, who had vowed to overhaul the feud-ridden party and bring it to a much-needed election victory.

“Kim’s leadership is beginning to adopt a dictatorial tone,” Rep. Kim Yong-ik said in a media interview. The first-termer, who forwent his candidacy for the election, noted that Kim’s lack of explanation for excluding Reps. Lee and Jung was “insulting” to Minjoo Party members.

Other members questioned whether Kim’s management of the party was transparent. Rep. Choi Jae-sung alleged that some key members had been involved in the nomination process, manipulating Kim into excluding Rep. Jung from the nomination.

But Kim, a 75-old politician who had served as a lawmaker during liberal and conservative governments appeared aloof in the face of such criticism. Instead, he said that the party was ready to take the election battle to the next level.

“I am not in a position to make a decision arbitrarily,” said Kim on Wednesday at a press conference in downtown Seoul. When asked about the dissenters’ comparison of Kim’s leadership as that of a Russian Czar, he said, “If someone calls me (a czar), then so be it. There is nothing I can do,”

The former economics professor said that the party would shift the focus of the election battle toward President Park’s “flawed” economic policies, casting the upcoming election as a vote of confidence in Park’s presidency. 

The interim leader said that he would resign his post unless the party gains more than 107 seats in the elections, but refused to clarify about his plan when the party wins the elections. “I have not thought about it yet," he said.

Indeed, Kim’s unyielding style of leadership appeared to catch dissenting members and rival parties off guard.

Yoon Tae-gon, a senior political analyst at Moa Agenda Strategy, noted that Kim is following the strategy that he had laid out when taking office.

“Kim is doing what he has planned to do from the beginning,” said Yoon. “His first and second plan was to expand his control over the party and build a unified opposition bloc. Now he is moving toward the third and final plan, a debate over the economic policies (which is his biggest forte),” he said.

By Yeo Jun-suk (