By Kang Hyun-kyung, Kim Sue-young
Major parties have made massive cuts of incumbent lawmakers in the selection of candidates to run in the National Assembly elections on April 9 to solicit more support.
The governing Grand National Party (GNP) announced Thursday the elimination of 43.5 percent of incumbent lawmakers in its selection of candidates in the Gyeongsang provinces, the party's stronghold. As a result, 25 legislators lost in the internal competition.
In a similar move, the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) has replaced 30 percent of its legislators with new faces in a bid to regain voter confidence in the elections.
Of the 25 incumbents who lost in the GNP nominations, 12 are said to be close aides of President Lee Myung-bak, while 10 are pro-Park Geun-hye. Park lost in last year's GNP primaries by a razor-thin margin to Lee who was elected president on the party's ticket.
Cheong Wa Dae has not made any official comments on the selections, but simply said, ``The figure was much more than expected.''
The reaction from former GNP Chairwoman Park was very different.
Rep. Kim Moo-sung, Park's right-hand man, was on the losers' list, and his elimination prompted shock among her aides.
Park has not given her views on the selections so far, but a close aide expressed deep discontent with a short comment: ``The nominations were almost a massacre.''
The 10 legislators close to Park held a late-night meeting after the selections were unveiled, to discuss their future plans.
Some GNP incumbents and aspirants who failed to make the cut are to hold a news conference today to announce their joining a third party for the upcoming elections. It remains to be seen how many of Park's supporters may join the defection move.
The UDP's screening committee decided Thursday to give no ticket to 15 incumbent lawmakers _ nine who sought re-election in districts of the Jeolla region, the stronghold of the party; and six who applied to run in non-Jeolla districts.
Those losing out include former President Kim Dae-jung's second son, Kim Hong-up; former Culture-Tourism Minister Chung Dong-chea; and two-term lawmaker Kim Tae-hong.
``This elimination is just the initial stage of the replacement that we have kept in mind as renewal efforts. More incumbents will be eliminated through screening,'' a committee member said, asking to remain anonymous.
The committee earlier left out nine or 31 percent of 29 incumbent lawmakers elected in the Jeolla region.
The committee said the Assemblymen were cut off because they have performed poorly, been sentenced to jail terms, or have failed to gain support from residents in their respective constituencies.
Unsuccessful applicants complained about the screening result, questioning its fairness and even claiming that a conspiracy is underway.
Rep. Lee Kwong-chol who applied to run in Wansan-gu district, Jeonju, said, ``It is absurd. Reports have it that I have performed well, maybe the best of all lawmakers in Jeolla. But rumors are afoot that the committee will give the ticket for the precinct to a former Democratic Party member only.''
The UDP is the de-facto successor of the now-defunct Uri Party merged with the minor opposition Democratic Party (DP).
Lee said he will take a wait-and-see approach and soon finalize his stance.
Some party officials cautiously forecast that five out of seven incumbent legislators in Gwangju may fail to seek re-election on the UDP's ticket.
Hopefuls of other regions are not free from layoffs of the screening committee either as it has indicated at least 20 percent of replacement in non-Jeolla regions.
The committee has already eliminated four-term lawmaker Rhee In-je who applied for the Nonsan-Gyeryong-Kumsan district in South Chungcheong Province over his frequent defections.
The UDP with 110 seats in the 299-member National Assembly, has high expectations for the Jeolla region. It is expected to replace 22 to 33 of them with new faces.
But opponents have expressed worry that the move will not regain the public support because the party does not have enough substitutes to field.