SEOUL, Hong Young-pyo, a three-term lawmaker, was elected floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Friday and now faces the task of obtaining the cooperation of opposition parties in normalizing an idle parliament.
Hong, who has close ties to President Moon Jae-in, will replace Rep. Woo Won-shik amid a weekslong partisan standoff over a proposed independent counsel probe into an online opinion rigging scandal, party officials said.
The 61-year-old Hong beat rival Noh Woong-rae, also a three-term lawmaker, by 78 to 38 in a vote by party lawmakers.
"We should make efforts to establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and make the livelihoods of ordinary people better meet public expectations," Hong said after being elected.
"I will do my best to normalize parliament, though the situation is quite challenging," he added.
The National Assembly has been idle since April, largely due to the online comments manipulation scandal that involved a power blogger, nicknamed Druking, with alleged ties to a ruling party lawmaker, a former key aide to Moon.
Ruling and opposition parties have engaged in political bickering over the scandal, putting key bills, including a 4 trillion won (US$3.7 billion) extra budget proposal, on hold.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has called on an immediate launch of a special counsel probe into the case.
The ruling DP earlier accepted the proposal on condition that the parliament will simultaneously vote on a bill on the independent probe and the supplementary budget bill in a parliamentary session scheduled for May 24.
But it later rejected the proposal after a smaller opposition party demanded a special investigation be expanded to Moon and the DP, citing Druking's suspected online rigging linked to last year's presidential election.
Amid protracted the parliamentary stalemate, Hong faces the task of eliciting cooperation from four major opposition parties to lend support to an implementation of Moon's policies in his second year in office.
Moon took office in May last year after winning a by-election following the ousting of his predecessor Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal.
At the 293-member National Assembly, the DP has only 121 seats while the LKP and other three opposition parties hold more than 165.
Moon's efforts to engage North Korea have received public support, and his peace initiative helped the two Koreas hold a historic summit in late April.
But on the economic front, job growth remains tepid amid high household debt, despite the government's efforts to boost the economy.
Hong also has the task of garnering cooperation from opposition parties to ratify a joint summit declaration adopted after the meeting of Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on April 27.
Parliamentary approval of the inter-Korean declaration needs a majority of incumbent lawmakers' attendance and a majority vote of such lawmakers.
Moon and Kim have agreed to try to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War and seek inter-Korean exchanges.
Hong visited Rep. Kim Sung-tae, the whip of the LKP, who has been on a hunger strike for nine days calling for an independent counsel investigation into the scandal. Kim was punched on his chin by a man on Saturday in front of the National Assembly main hall.
"As health is most important, please end your hunger strike. Let's talk each other," Hong said, holding Kim's hands. "As now is a very critical time for the state, let's make efforts to normalize the National Assembly as soon as possible."
Later in the day, Kim had to stop the strike after he was taken to hospital again due to health problems.
Source: Yonhap News Agency