Rivals within Conservative Saenuri Party Begin Hunger Games against Leadership

Rivals within Conservative Saenuri Party Begin Hunger Games against Leadership

SEOUL, Nov. 14 (Yonhap) -- Infighting within the Saenuri Party deepened Monday as the ruling party's leadership rejected growing calls to resign over the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye's close confidante.

The party's mainstreamers, closely affiliated with Park, called for unity to cope with the sprawling scandal, while other members stressed the need to take aggressive measures to win back public trust, such as disbanding the fractured party.

The scandal involving Choi Soon-sil has left Park's leadership in tatters and state governance in disarray and laid bare a factional fissure within the party, which has been led by Park loyalists.

Choi, a private citizen with no government post, is suspected of using her decades-long ties to the president to meddle in state affairs and even influence appointments.

"What we need most at this point in time is party unity," Lee Jung-hyun, the Saenuri leader and staunch loyalist to Park, said during a meeting with senior party officials. "I wish you could refrain from mentioning the disbandment of the party and remain prudent."

A day earlier, Lee announced a "road map" for the troubled party under which he would resign immediately after the formation of a nonpartisan Cabinet -- a process that has been in limbo amid Park's refusal to clarify how much authority she would cede to it.

Lee also vowed to hold the party's leadership election on Jan. 21, signaling he would not bow out right away. Party spokesman Yeom Dong-yeol said Lee would resign at least a month before the leadership contest.

Lambasting the party chief for sticking to his seat, some party lawmakers began a hunger strike. They also dismissed his road map as being "unworthy of consideration."

On Sunday, some 80 members of a faction, which is not close to Park, agreed to push for the disbandment of the party and urged the president to give up her presidential authority.

"We cannot protect the healthy conservative values and Republic of Korea with the current Saenuri Party," they said in a statement. "Taking responsibility for the scandal, we will seek to disband the party."

The conflicting party factions, however, converged on the need to form a nonpartisan Cabinet to stabilize state affairs, which have been crippled with the political scandal showing no signs of abating.

Saenuri floor leader Chung Jin-suk proposed forging a cross-party committee on constituting a nonpartisan Cabinet, stressing that the National Assembly should take responsibility for normalizing state affairs when the government cannot function properly.'

Last Tuesday, the embattled president agreed to appoint a parliament-picked premier to take "effective control" of the Cabinet. But she fell short of specifying the scope of authority she will grant to a new premier.

Opposition parties have called on Park to relinquish the entirety of her executive power to a new premier, a demand, which the presidential office sees as unconstitutional given her legally guaranteed authorities, such as her control over the armed services.

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