Posted : 2016-08-28 17:20
Updated : 2016-08-28 20:30

New opposition leader to deepen THAAD conflict

Rep. Choo Mi-ae celebrates after being elected as the Minjoo Party of Korea's new leader. / Yonhap

Choo wants to avoid US-China clash on peninsula

By Kim Hyo-jin

The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK) is predicted to take a hard-line stance against the country hosting the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, as Rep. Choo Mi-ae has become the party chairwoman.

Her leadership is raising the prospect of political wrangling over the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile defense system with the ruling Saenuri Party.

On Saturday, Choo, a five-term lawmaker whose district is in eastern Seoul, was elected as the new chairwoman to replace Kim Chong-in, the party's interim head who has been maintaining an overall neutral political stance.

Choo vowed during the chairmanship race to officially oppose the government's decision to deploy a THAAD battery on Korean soil.

"I will make opposition to the THAAD battery the party's official position," she said in an acceptance speech after the ballot, Saturday, reiterating her stance against the anti-missile system. "We cannot let China and the U.S. clash on the Korean Peninsula."

The Saenuri Party, which claims the missile defense system is integral to defending South Korea against Pyongyang's evolving nuclear and missile threats, responded immediately, expressing concerns over her opposition.

Rep. Kim Young-woo, a Saenuri Party lawmaker who chairs the Assembly's National Defense Committee, criticized the new opposition leader for downplaying security threats posed by North Korea.

"Choo should clarify what can be a countermeasure against North Korea's nuclear program and missiles if not a THAAD battery," he said during a press conference.

Calling on Choo to withdraw the stance, Kim noted, "Our security is at a critical stage but debate remains unproductive due to partisan wrangling and a not-in-my backyard attitude."

Replacing her predecessor Kim Chong-in, Choo signaled that she will make progressive-leaning changes in the party's major policies other than THAAD.

The party will take a tougher stance against the ruling Saenuri Party in Assembly negotiations under her leadership, party insiders view.

"The biggest discontent of party members is that we have not acted properly as an opposition party. I faced calls from them to become more dogged," she told reporters after the election.

"I'm determined to make our party a strong opposition party. We will stand against the President if she ignores and manages state affairs singlehandedly against the public call. This is a way of winning the presidential election."

She voiced strong support for revising the Sewol special law to extend the operation of an independent fact-finding committee set up following the sinking of the Sewol ferry that left 304 dead or missing.

Opposition parties and victims' families have argued that the committee made little progress due to a lack of cooperation by the governing bloc and that the duration of the investigation be extended.

But the ruling party remained adamant in its opposition to such a call, seeking to end the controversy over the disastrous incident. It views the committee was already dissolved in June under the current special law.

During the chairmanship campaign, she vowed to push for economic democratization bills aiming at easing the income gap, redistributing cash reserves of conglomerates, and protecting subcontractors and non-regular workers treated unfairly by management.

Moon followers take power

Lawmakers and party members who support Moon Jae-in bagged key leadership positions at the national convention, Saturday.

Choo garnered 54.03 percent of the votes, routing Rep. Lee Jong-kul, a former party floor leader and Kim Sang-gon, a former education superintendent of Gyeonggi Province with 23.89 and 22.08 percent of the votes, respectively. She reportedly gained the overwhelming support from the mainstream party members affiliated with Moon.

Six out of eight newly elected Supreme Council members are also Moon loyalists. Yang Hyang-ja, a former Samsung Electronics executive, and Kim Byung-kwan, chairman of online game developer Webzen who entered politics before the general election in April this year, were recruited by Moon, then party chairman.

The new leadership is expected to lay the groundwork for Moon's launching his presidential bid again in the 2017 race.

Pundits say the party members appear to have elected Choo in hopes of a strong leadership in the run-up to the presidential election.

Following the results, some party members expressed concerns that Moon's monopoly in the primary race could fail to attract the attention of voters.

Conscious of their concern, Choo vowed to prepare for a fair primary contest with various presidential candidate hopefuls.

"I will stop the party from being divided into the mainstream Moon followers and those who do not follow him," she said. "I'm confident I can conduct the presidential primary fairly, together with Rep. Kim Boo-kyum, ex-Chairman Moon, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, former advisor Son Hak-gyu, South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung, and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung."

Choo, the former judge and veteran lawmaker born in the southeastern city of Daegu, became the first chairwoman from the ruling party's stronghold in a main opposition party.

She entered politics through the help of late President Kim Dae-jung and played a crucial role in the presidential campaign of late President Roh Moo-hyun.

Her reputation was tainted among Roh followers, the MPK's mainstream faction, as she voted in favor of impeaching the President in 2004. But she reconciled with them successfully after she described it as the biggest mistake of her political career.

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