(ATTN: UPDATES with ruling party floor leader's remarks in last two paras)
By Lee Minji
SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- Two lawmakers of the ruling People Power Party (PPP), considered closest confidants of President Yoon Suk-yeol, clashed Monday over the controversial hiring of a presidential office employee, with one of them warning the other to watch his mouth.
Rep. Chang Je-won opened fire on PPP floor leader Kweon Seong-dong after Kweon said he "pressured" Chang to have a person from his constituency in the eastern city of Gangneung hired at the presidential office when Chang was chief of staff for then President-elect Yoon.
Kweon had also expressed frustration that the person was hired as a level 9 official, not a level 7 official as asked by him, saying a level 9 official's salary is not sufficient to cover living costs in Seoul for people coming from outside of the capital.
The employee later turned out to be a son of one of President Yoon Suk-yeol's acquaintances. That sparked criticism that personnel selections for the presidential office were made based on private connections, not based on merit.
"I received no pressure whatsoever from floor leader Kweon. I just received a recommendation," Chang said in a Facebook post. "As chief of staff for the president-elect, I had to make personnel appointments based on various recommendations."
Chang rejected any favoritism, stressing that personnel choices were made in an absolutely fair manner.
"I appeal to acting Chairman Kweon. You speak in an extremely rough manner," he said. "No matter how good the clarifications we may offer, we should refrain from such rough expressions as 'putting pressure' and 'how one can live in Seoul with the minimum wage.'"
Chang also told Kweon to "not forget the fact that he is in a position of heavy responsibility as the head of a ruling party."
While Chang's remarks are seen as part of efforts to ease criticism over the hiring controversy, they are also seen as a precursor of a dispute between the two lawmakers who have been collectively dubbed "Yoonhaekgwan" -- an abbreviation of "Yoon Suk-yeol's core associates."
Once seen as "political brothers," Kweon and Chang have appeared to be in a power struggle recently, especially following the suspension of PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok. The ruling party has ordered that Lee, who has often been at odds with "Yoonhaekhwan," be given a six-month suspension in party membership over a sexual bribery scandal.
The decision has taken a toll on the ruling party, raising doubts over its leadership and deepening an internal power struggle. A July 11 poll by Realmeter showed that the favorability rating for the PPP fell to 40.9 percent, while that for the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) rose to 41.8 percent. It marked the first time the DP's favorability rating exceeded the PPP in 14 weeks.
Amid growing doubts over internal turmoil, Kweon opted to allay the concerns for now.
"I humbly accept Rep. Chang's remarks," he told reporters later Monday. "I will also listen to criticism from PPP lawmakers and members with an open mind."
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