President Park's Loyalists Hold onto Power within Saenuri Party
SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party elected a loyalist of President Park Geun-hye as its new floor leader Friday, a result that may pave the way for an exodus of dissenters from the party.
Four-term lawmaker Rep. Chung Woo-taik and Rep. Lee Hyun-jae were elected as the floor leader and policy panel chief, respectively, beating their competitors from the anti-Park group, Reps. Na Kyung-won and Kim Se-yeon. Chung grabbed 62 votes against Na's 55.
After the election Chung Woo-taik urged the party to end factional fighting and restore unity.
"I am confident we can create another conservative government if we remain united and seek harmony," he said.
On Monday, Rep. Chung Jin-suk resigned as floor leader taking responsibility for the impeachment of Park last Friday over alleged corruption.
Pundits said the victory of Park allies despite the impeachment may prompt their rivals to leave Saenuri in droves and establish their own party.
The new floor leader is set to serve as an acting chief if party chairman Lee Jung-hyun and other members of the Supreme Council, mostly pro-Park figures, resign on Friday.
Former Saenuri head and anti-Park leader Rep. Kim Moo-sung earlier expressed his willingness to found a new party. Former floor leader Rep. Yoo Seong-min also said he will ponder his future path, hinting at a possible defection from the party.
Some pundits bet they may end up choosing to stay as their division would hurt conservatives' election prospects. The presidential election, originally slated for December, may take place earlier if the Constitutional Court finalizes Park's ouster.
One of the challenges looming over the new Saenuri whip is its relationship with opposition parties. The opposition bloc has been delaying talks with Saenuri on normalizing state affairs, dismissing Park loyalists as their counterparts.
"We cannot accept them as counterparts for discussion," the main opposition Democratic Party said in a statement after the election.
"There will be no dialogue and exchanges," Rep. Ki Dong-min, the main opposition's spokesman, told Yonhap News Agency. "It is Saenuri that gave up the chance to sit down for talks."
The splinter People's Party echoed the view, saying Saenuri failed to properly reflect the public's wishes.
"It is regrettable that we cannot congratulate Saenuri's new floor leader," said Rep. Lee Yong-ho, the party's spokesman. "Saenuri, which is just as responsible for the scandal as Park, is only clinging to its political survival rather than reaching out to the people."