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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on June 14)

All News 07:07 June 14, 2016

Silence on reforms
-Interim leadership fails to shake up ruling party-

The ruling Saenuri Party launched a reform committee on June 2, but the panel, which also acts as the party’s interim leadership until a new leader is elected, has not yet proposed any major reform agenda.

The committee is led by Kim Hee-ok, a former head of the Government Public Ethics Committee. When Kim was tapped for the party’s interim leadership, many wondered how the former Supreme Court justice with no political experience would reform the conservative party, which is riddled with factional strife.

One key issue the reform committee should face is whether to invite back the seven lawmakers who defected from the party after being denied nominations and then won as independents.

In its June 7 meeting, the committee decided to discuss the issue after the leadership of the 20th National Assembly had been elected. The new parliamentary leadership has already been elected, but the panel still leaves the problem unaddressed.

Bringing the seven defectors back into the fold is a highly sensitive issue as it could influence the party’s future path.

The seven include Rep. Yoo Seong-min, a former floor leader who was forced by mainstreamers to step down from his post after confronting President Park Geun-hye over major policies.

The mainstream faction loyal to Park is still opposed to readmitting the reform-minded former floor leader. The faction argues the issue should be discussed after a new party leader is elected in a party convention slated for August.

Behind the argument lies the faction’s calculation that if the next leader is elected from among its members, the party could decide not to readmit Yoo.

The faction’s opposition to embracing Yoo clearly shows it is not interested in reforming the party from the ground up. Any reform attempt should start with analyzing the causes of the party’s devastating defeat in the April election.

One main cause was the mainstream faction’s excessive favoritism in nominating candidates. Yoo was one of the victims. Yet the faction refuses to take the responsibility for the election defeat, only seeking to maintain its control of the party.

In their first policy workshop held Friday, the party’s lawmakers resolved to abolish factionalism. The first step toward the goal is to disband the powerful pro-Park faction. Yet few expect the faction would voluntarily dissolve itself.

Until a new party leader is elected, the ruling party is unlikely to take any major reform initiatives. If the mainstream faction emerges as the winner in the leadership contest, the window for reform will close.

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