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Park stirs controversy with pre-election visits

President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday visited the southeastern city of Busan, the political stronghold of the ruling party, voluntarily stepping further into looming controversy over the president’s overt involvement in the April general elections.

The official reason for her visit was to inspect the achievements of local creative economy centers and on the livelihoods of the people.

But her showing up in the political bastion for the Saenuri Party with less than a month remaining to the April 13 general elections added to the growing criticism from the opposition for attempting to dwarf the party’s internal feud over nominations and to cement the conservative votes.

“President Park abruptly paid a visit to Busan as the conflict between the so-called pro-Parks and non-Parks are aggravating. We believe that this visit is a pitiable struggle to hold on to the votes and a clear intervention of the election,” said the Busan office of The Minjoo Party of Korea.

President Park Geun-hye waves to citizens during her visit to Busan on Wednesday. Yonhap

President Park Geun-hye waves to citizens during her visit to Busan on Wednesday. Yonhap
It is the opposition’s complaint that the president’s moves may constitute a breach of Clause 9 of the Public Election Act, which forbids all public officials from exerting influence on elections.

Cheong Wa Dae, in response to rising criticism, repeatedly asserted that the president’s regional city trips were to encourage the creative economy, short of any political implication.

This was the third of such visits, following her earlier trip to the Daegu center last Thursday and to the Daejeon center on Feb. 25, marking three years in the presidential office for Park.

While in Busan, the president attended the first anniversary celebration of the Busan Center for Creative Economy and Innovation, one of the 17 branches nationwide.

Park also stopped by a marine product processing complex to look into the value-adding project of the local fisheries industry and a senior welfare center to check on the efficacy of government policies for senior citizens.

Park’s earlier presence in her home city Daegu coincided with the Saenuri Party’s feud-ridden candidate nomination for the April race.

Earlier this week, following Park’s Daegu schedule, the party announced its choice of candidates for the Daegu and North Gyeongsang regions.

The results, which mostly turned out to be unfavorable for those in conflict with President Park, led to mumblings that each candidate’s electoral luck depended entirely on his or her intimacy with Cheong Wa Dae.

Conspicuous among the dropouts were those considered close aides to Rep. Yoo Seong-min, the third-termer in Daegu who stepped down from his post as party floor leader last July amid outright clashes with the president.

Rep. Yoo, who was once considered a key pro-Park aide, lost the president’s favor over recent years after he stood against her welfare policies and led negotiations with the main opposition party to pass a parliamentary revision bill.

“This most undemocratic candidate nomination clearly carries a tone of retaliation,” said Rep. Cho Hae-jin, who has been denied the chance to run in his incumbent constituency in South Gyeongsang Province.

In contrast, former high-ranking government officials managed to survive the nomination battle with relative ease.

Former Interior Minister Chong Jong-sup and former chief for government policy coordination Choo Kyung-ho, with whom the president exchanged a friendly greeting during her Daegu trip, won their unrivaled candidacy to run in the city.

Meanwhile, the ruling party has yet to make its final decision on Rep. Yoo himself.

“Rep. Yoo’s issue requires much political consideration,” said the party’s nomination chief Rep. Lee Hahn-koo on Wednesday, suggesting the putting off of judgment.

It wasn’t just Rep. Yoo’s group that cried foul at the party’s nomination.

Party chief Rep. Kim Moo-sung, who has long stood at odds with the pro-Park group, blamed the nomination committee for its arbitrary selection of candidates.

“It is a serious problem that competent current lawmakers should be ruled out without a decent reason,” Kim said.

He thus called for a reappraisal for Reps. Joo Ho-young and Lee Jae-oh, both non-Park figures who were denied candidacy.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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