Korea’s Park Taps Political Dealmaker to Avoid Lame Duck Status

  • South Korean president faces gridlock in National Assembly
  • Loyal broker seen aiding effort overcome fractured parliament

South Korean President Park Geun Hye named a parliamentary broker as her top political adviser as she sought to keep her agenda alive in the National Assembly, where her party was denied a majority in April elections.

Facing the prospect of legislative gridlock, the president on Wednesday appointed Kim Jae Won, a former two-term lawmaker who has brokered political deals for Park for almost a decade. The April elections splintered the parliament and left no party holding a majority.

Keeping her political clout alive in the parliament is crucial to Park as she seeks to reform a South Korean economy squeezed by falling exports and rising joblessness. Her government said Wednesday that it would create an 11 trillion won fund ($9.5 billion) to support the restructuring of the nation’s shipping and shipbuilding industries saddled with mounting debt.

“Park is making it clear she won’t turn into a lame duck for the rest of her tenure,” said Hwang Tae Soon, a political analyst at the Wisdom Center in Seoul. “In a parliament dominated by opposition, gridlock is certain to rise and she’s not going to be intimidated.”

The Minjoo Party, which won 123 of the assembly’s 300 seats, expressed hope that Kim would improve dialogue between Park and the opposition. The People’s Party, which won 38 seats, criticized Park’s choice, saying that she continues to surround herself with aides who don’t dare question her.

Park’s Saenuri party was reduced to 122 seats from 146 seats in the elections that took place with less than two years left in her single term. She dismissed her chief of staff last month and has struggled to restore her public support rating since the vote.

The cabinet shake up on Wednesday included several presidential secretaries and vice ministers, including a Unification Ministry official responsible for dealing with North Korea. Park has taken a tougher stance against Pyongyang and has been leading efforts to strengthen international sanctions over leader Kim Jong Un’s January nuclear test -- the country’s fourth since 2006.

At home, South Korea’s parliament missed the deadline to convene its first full meeting amid disputes over appointments to key posts. Last month, the opposition threatened to block Park’s agenda after her government refused to make mandatory the singing of a song about a 1980 uprising at an official commemoration.

The gridlock arises in part from Park’s resolve not to yield despite her party’s election defeat and that may hurt her party ahead of the presidential vote late next year, said Kim Man Heum, head of the Korean Academy of Politics and Leadership institute in Seoul.

“Rather than seeking agreement through concessions, she’s focused on keeping her influence from slipping,” Kim said. “She’s determined to stick with those who will toe her line, and that makes it harder for Saenuri to be reborn as a party with a broader appeal.”

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