Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon takes a seat to hold the last press conference as the floor leader of the conservative People Power Party on Thursday at the National Assembly. (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea’s conservative People Power Party is set to elect a new floor leader Friday, as it readies for a party merger and the launch of the Yoon administration.
On Friday, the party will elect a new floor leader to succeed Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon for a full year, and the election is seen as a battle between those who have connections to President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol and those who do not.
Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, one of the closest figures to Yoon, is up against Rep. Cho Hae-jin, who essentially has no ties with the president-elect.
Kweon is widely expected to win the election and direct the party to closely cooperate with Yoon and his new administration.
The new elected floor leader will face an uphill battle in the National Assembly, where the People Power Party, controlling 110 out of the 300 legislative seats, has to compete against its main rival Democratic Party with 172 seats.
The Democratic Party has already warned of tough vetting for Yoon’s minister nominees, and the new floor leader would have to corral People Power Party legislators into forming a united front against them.
While ministerial appointments do not require endorsement from the parliament, the People Power Party worries it may face the same criticism as the Moon Jae-in administration in personnel appointments. The current administration appointed about a third of its minister-level personnel without the parliament adopting a confirmation hearing report.
Kim, stepping down as floor leader Thursday, urged the party to concentrate on aiding the lives of the people if it wants to push its agenda with a minority government.
“Cooperation should be pursued on the basis that checks and balances are in place between the president and the ruling party,” Kim said in his last press conference held as the floor leader.
“Joint efforts without checks and balance could lead everyone to be demolished altogether.”
The People Power Party is also working to officially merge with the minor centrist People’s Party as Yoon and People’s Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo promised during the latest presidential race. How the merger is held is likely to determine who is nominated for which posts in the upcoming local elections.
People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok publicly asked Ahn to serve as a leading campaign official for the local elections, but Ahn essentially refused the offer, saying the party merger must come first before any appointment is discussed.
“I think it is too abrupt to ask even though the merger is not even finalized,” Ahn told reporters Thursday. “I plan to help out on any matter (with a stance to stay low) where my help is needed.”
Lee and the party leadership plan to finalize nominations in early April, and how the merger is processed until then could determine how much proportion Ahn and the People’s Party can take in the newly merged political party.
Yet the merger is reportedly not making much process even though negotiations have been underway for the past several weeks. The People Power Party plans to pick all of its flagbearers within the next three weeks, and the merger plan is pressured to be finalized within the same timeline.
By Ko Jun-tae (email@example.com