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LKP denies Na’s wish to remain as floor leader

Dec 05,2019
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Hwang Kyo-ahn, center, chairman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, makes his opening remarks at a LKP leadership meeting in a makeshift tent near the Blue House on Wednesday. [LIM HYUN-DONG]
An abrupt and controversial decision by the head of the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) to replace its floor leader next week triggered a fierce resistance from its key members on Wednesday.

Chairman of the LKP Hwang Kyo-ahn held an abrupt Supreme Council meeting on Tuesday and decided to reject Rep. Na Kyung-won’s wish to continue serving as the floor leader until the general election in April next year. Her one-year tenure as the chief negotiator of the second largest party of the National Assembly with 108 lawmakers was scheduled to end Dec. 10.

The outcome was seen as a surprise, as many LKP members believed they have the right to hold a vote to make such a decision. On Tuesday morning, Na requested a vote of confidence at the general assembly of lawmakers. It took, however, just three hours for Hwang to hold a leadership meeting and turn down her request.

“The Supreme Council’s decision is extremely regretful and deplorable,” said Rep. Kim Tae-heum during the general assembly of LKP lawmakers at the National Assembly on Wednesday. “Can we say it was a proper decision?”

Kim said the general assembly of lawmakers has the power to decide whether to extend Na’s term or hold an election to find a new floor leader. “This is not a matter to be decided by the members of the Supreme Council including the party chairman,” Kim said.

He demanded that the Supreme Council apologize for what had happened and allow the general assembly of lawmakers to make a decision.

After the lawmakers’ meeting, Kim continued to criticize Hwang. “Even elementary school students will know after reading the party’s constitution and regulations that the floor leader is elected at the general assembly of lawmakers,” Kim said. “Hwang made a unilateral decision, an abuse of power.”

Other lawmakers including Rep. Chang Je-won made arguments similar to Kim’s during the meeting.

Na told the lawmakers that she accepted the Supreme Council’s decision. “I will not ask fellow lawmakers today about extending my tenure,” Na said. “There were different opinions on who has the decision-making power and what the procedure is, but I decide to accept the [Supreme Council’s] decision for the sake of the people’s happiness, advancement of the country and party’s victory [in the April general election].”

Criticism toward Hwang was also evident earlier in the morning when a senior lawmaker yelled at a key ally of the chairman. Before the conference of the Supreme Council members and senior lawmakers Wednesday morning, Rep. Chung Jin-suk, a four-term lawmaker, shouted at Secretary General Park Wan-su, appointed to the post by Hwang on Monday.

“Is Hwang the only decision maker? I have a 20-year-long career in politics, but I have never seen a chairman and a floor leader who fail to work harmoniously,” Chung said. “Get a grip on yourselves!”

Na was conspicuously missing from the meeting.

After hosting the leadership meeting, Hwang visited Na’s office at the National Assembly and met with her for about seven minutes. “I told her that I appreciated her hard work,” Hwang told reporters following the meeting. “I told her that we should continue working together to revive the party. Na told me that she wishes the best for outstanding issues.”

Hwang also defended the legitimacy of the decision. “The organizational bureau of the party made a legal judgment on various opinions, and I acted based on that,” he said.

With less than six months left before the end of the 20th National Assembly, speculation was high among the LKP lawmakers that Na’s tenure would be extended until after the April general election. Around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Na said she would summon a general assembly of lawmakers to decide on the issue. At 4 p.m., Hwang held an emergency meeting of the Supreme Council, which Na attended and explained her plan.

After Na’s exit, Hwang and three members of the Supreme Council decided to reject her proposal. Two other council members who were recovering from hunger strikes did not attend the meeting, but relayed their opinions. “Her term is about to end, and there are other people who want to run for the post,” Hwang told reporters after the meeting. “So, we will go by the book.”

According to the LKP’s internal regulations, a floor leader’s tenure is one year, but the general assembly of lawmakers can decide to extend the tenure of the floor leader and chief policymaker when less than six months are left before the lawmakers’ term ends. Because the 20th National Assembly will end as of May 31 next year, Na’s tenure could have been extended if the LKP lawmakers agreed.

Secretary General Park, however, said the Supreme Council has the superior authority. “The Supreme Council must decide first whether to extend the floor leader’s term or not, and then the floor leader will summon the general assembly of lawmakers to hold a vote of confidence,” he said. “Therefore, whether to extend her tenure or not is ultimately the decision of the Supreme Council.”

Political observers said the Supreme Council’s decision was a de facto nonconfidence vote against Na cast by Hwang. They said Hwang was trying to appoint his loyalists in the LKP leadership ahead of the general election.

Resuming his work on Monday after an eight-day hunger strike against the Moon Jae-in administration, Hwang said he will fight against the internal faction that stops changes and reform. “If necessary, I will not hesitate to sacrifice key associates,” he said. He then carried out a major reshuffle. On Monday, 35 LKP officials submitted their resignations en masse. Four hours later, Hwang filled seven vacancies.

Rep. Park, first-term lawmaker who had served as Changwon mayor for three terms, was named as the new secretary general of the LKP, a key position responsible for the preparation for the general election nomination process. He is known as a close associate of Hwang. Their ties began in 2009, when Hwang was serving as the head of the Changwon District Prosecutors’ Office and he was the mayor of the city.

Meanwhile, the LKP’s decision to replace its floor leader forced the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to change its negotiation strategy to resume the stalled legislative operation.

“The LKP did not respond to our demand to normalize the National Assembly by yesterday,” DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan said Wednesday. “Starting today, we will negotiate with opposition parties other than the LKP to pass the budget and bills to reform the prosecution and change the election law.”

“If the LKP recants its filibuster plan and openly promises to normalize legislative operation, we will consider talking to them,” Lee said.

In order to block a voting session of contentious bills, designed to create a new investigation agency for senior public servants, redistribute investigative powers between the police and prosecution and introduce a new proportional representation system, Na had requested a filibuster on Friday for 199 outstanding bills. A voting session planned to pass the bills was subsequently canceled.

“They will have a new floor leader, so we will leave the door open for negotiations,” Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo, senior spokesman of the DP, said Wednesday. “In the meantime, we will start negotiations with four other opposition parties.”

Hong said the top priority of the negotiations is the budget bill. “Passing the budget bill is the most urgent issue,” he said. The DP said it wants to vote on the election law revision bill by Dec. 17.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]