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[Opinion] United Democratic Party, May 20, 2008

Posted May. 21, 2008 07:29,   


The leader of the main opposition United Democratic Party, Sohn Hak-kyu, arrived at the presidential office at 7:25 a.m. yesterday. Presidential chief of staff Ryu Woo-ik and senior presidential secretary for political affairs Park Jae-wan greeted Sohn and took him to the Baekak Room on the second floor. There, President Lee Myung-bak welcomed Sohn. The two men held a breakfast meeting on the ratification of the free trade agreement with the United States and resumption of U.S. beef imports. They failed, however, to reach an agreement. At 2 p.m., National Assembly Speaker Lim Chae-jung rejected a request to present the bill on the agreement’s ratification to parliament, invoking his authority as speaker. A few months ago, however, Lim had agreed to present the bill on the independent investigation into a stock fraud scandal involving Lee. Lim has become a parliamentary speaker who agrees to deliberate a bill on an independent investigation but refused to do so for a bill on the free trade deal.

Two and a half hours after Sohn left the presidential office, UDP floor leader Kim Hyo-seok held a news conference for foreign reporters in Seoul. “I’m worried that candlelight vigils by Koreans might be underestimated as a way to express ideology or anti-U.S. sentiment. We can talk about the free trade deal only after the government renegotiates beef imports.” In response, a foreign reporter said a civic organization that protested against the U.S. when 23 Koreans were kidnapped in Afghanistan also attended the candlelight vigils.” If Kim felt no sense of anti-U.S. sentiment appearing in the vigils, he seems too insensible to be a politician.

UDP Co-chairman Park Sang-cheon is apparently angry over the meeting between President Lee and Sohn. Even though Sohn is legally representing his party, Park is co-chairman, at least politically. Park has good reason to get mad since Sohn did not announce his visit to the presidential office in advance and Park Jae-wan did not visit Co-chairman Park when the presidential secretary came to the UDP office Monday. A person close to Park Sang-cheon reportedly said, “Sohn’s behavior was really bad. He’s very rude.”

With only 10 days left before the 17th National Assembly ends, the UDP is apparently breaking up. It is hard to see the party giving priority to national interests until its role as the ruling party ends since it changed its name from the Uri Party, which won 152 parliamentary seats four years ago. In the 18th National Assembly, will the 81-seat UDP struggle to compete against the ruling Grand National Party while arguing that it is keeping the ruling party in check?

Editorial Writer Kwon Soon-taek (maypole@donga.com)