New Parliamentary Leaderships for the Ruling and Opposition Parties

2013-05-17

The ruling Saenuri Party’s Choi Kyung-hwan and the opposition Democratic Party’s Jun Byung-hun were elected new floor leaders for the Korea’s National Assembly on Wednesday, May 15. Since they both strive for stronger party presence in the parliament, they are likely to lock horns in many legislative issues, but they are also very astute strategists, which may lead to a surprisingly reasonable relationship.

Saenuri Party’s Floor Leader Choi Kyung-hwan

The governing Saenuri Party chose Choi Kyung-hwan in Wednesday’s poll held at the National Assembly, with 146 Saenuri Party members in attendance. Choi beat his competitor, four-time lawmaker Lee Ju-young, 77 votes to 69. He is a staunch Park Geun-hye supporter and three-term lawmaker representing Gyeongsan and Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang Province. His mottos during the campaign were “a stronger ruling party” and “three-way communication – with other Saenuri members, the government, and the opposition camp.” Choi’s background is in economy and his political career grew in tandem with that of President Park, from way back when he was outside the mainstream sect of the Grand National Party, the predecessor of the current Saenuri Party. He acted as the election control tower when Park ran for presidential party nomination in 2007, and worked as chief of staff during her presidential campaigning in 2012. He has been pro-Park for a long time and is reputed to know President Park’s intentions best. However, whether his close relationship with the president would help the ruling party and the Presidential Office communicate better remains to be seen. Choi’s challenge is to walk the fine line between providing full support for the Park administration and giving constructive criticism for the government’s mistakes. He should lead the Saenuri Party to legislate laws that help realize the new government’s policies, while fulfilling the party’s duty of checks and balances for the executive branch of the government.

Democratic Party’s Floor Leader Jun Byung-hun

The Democratic Party’s Jun Byung-hun pulled off a miraculous victory at the final round of Wednesday’s election. With 125 members present for the poll, Jun earned 12 more votes than second runner-up Woo Yoon-keun, who got 56 votes, in the final match. Jun’s victory was more astounding, because in the first round of the voting, he placed second, just three ballots behind the first-place finisher, but came back from behind in the final poll to take the party leadership position. Representing Dongjak A District in Seoul, Jun is known as a hard-liner, pitching “a clear opposition camp” and “a vigorous Democratic Party” as his campaign slogans. He said in his acceptance speech that his victory was a show of solidarity by the Democrats to strive for “a definite presence, a clear Democratic Party, and a competent Democratic Party.” In his last-minute effort to drum up support, he said he would fight decisively, negotiate fervently, and concede strategically. He added, however, that there would rarely be any concession and that he would earn people’s support by countering the ruling party with spirit and courage.

Political Outlooks

Given the two floor leaders’ temperaments, the political contests between the two are expected to be unyielding. Neither one can afford to back down, because they need to pull off a victory in the by-elections in October and the local elections in June 2014. The Democratic Party, in particular, has its work cut out for it, because it needs to compete against freshman lawmaker and former presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, who is looking to form a party of his own. Therefore, the Democratic Party needs to push for an in-party reform and distance itself further from the ruling Saenuri Party. The Democratic Party has no other option than to fight more intensely with the governing party over policy issues. The first benchmark of the Democratic Party’s new identity is the legislation of the economic democratization bill slated for the National Assembly’s extraordinary session in June. However, some experts predict that they may not be so contrasting, since both Choi and Jun are smart strategists, and that they have already shown their reasonable and flexible sides during the in-party elections. In fact, they had already worked well as assistant administrators in a special committee of the 18th National Assembly in 2008. Their struggle for parliamentary control is certain to be very fierce, but not so extreme as to forget their obligations toward the greater good of the people and nation.

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