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GNP divided over Park taking the lead

Calls for an early party convention to drag the Grand National Party out of the gloom are increasing a week after its defeat in the Seoul mayoral by-election, as Park Geun-hye’s stature rises in the party.

Park, who typically maintains a discreet, low profile, broke her silence on the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, following up on her campaigning for the GNP in last week’s by-elections.

She told reporters Thursday that the FTA should be passed immediately, as further delays would harm national interests, after ratification was deferred once again by left-wing parties.

An early party convention was previously demanded by Rep. Chung Mong-joon, a six-term lawmaker and former chairman of the GNP with presidential ambitions, those who supported President Lee Myung-bak in his fight against Park in the 2007 presidential primary and the GNP’s younger, reformist lawmakers.

Several pro-Park legislators including Rep. Kwon Young-se have said that Park should return to the party leadership even if it means revising the party constitution. However, a majority of the faction have not joined their calls. The GNP constitution bans the party leader from making a presidential bid.

Park said on Tuesday that politicians should prioritize policy to “fix what is most urgent for the people” over “politics amongst themselves” at a debate session on welfare.
GNP leader Hong Joon-pyo, elected just four months ago in July, is unlikely to be willing to step down, and a squabble over who should take charge would not look good to the public, according to some pro-Park lawmakers.

“It could turn into another battleground between pro-Lee and the pro-Park, and feuding for party candidacy (for the general elections in April) will begin,” pro-Park Rep. Gu Sang-chan said in a radio interview Friday.

“To protect the party’s presidential candidate, I believe former chairwoman Park should not come to the forefront of a standoff between the ruling and opposition parties.”

Bickering has already begun, however, over who should take the helm of the party, or ultimately give up the presidential bid next year.

Rep. Chung said during a radio interview on Tuesday that Park should take the lead in reforming the party, and that it would be irresponsible of her not to.

Rep. Hong Sa-duk, the longest-serving legislator in the pro-Park faction, said in a radio interview the same day that some of Chung’s aides must have not studied political strategy properly in the U.S.

“That picking a quarrel makes you on par is what Americans teach,” Rep. Hong said.

“(Park) will take the lead anyway before the general elections next year, as you have seen in the by-elections.”

On Friday, Chung fired back at Hong, saying Park’s aides seem to have learned about political engineering the wrong way.

“It is undignified of Hong, a six-term lawmaker, to make such expressions targeted at me. It was highly inappropriate,” Chung said in another radio interview.

“Everyone in the party is cautious about speaking about former chairwoman Park. I don’t feel good either, but we should talk about what there is to say. If anyone can’t digest it, it’s his problem.”

By Kim So-hyun (