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Bareunmirae at odds with itself over declaration

Oct 10,2018
The centrist Bareunmirae Party is being torn apart over debates on whether to ratify the Panmunjom Declaration, which was signed by the leaders of the two Koreas on April 27.

In the declaration, the North and South agreed to work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and explored a wide range of inter-Korean cooperation projects.

The strife stems from the 30-lawmaker party’s origins. It was created in February as a merger between the People’s Party, which championed center-left values and was led by former presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, and the center-right Bareun Party, led by Yoo Seong-min, who also ran in the 2017 presidential race.

The ongoing strife has sparked speculation that Bareunmirae lawmakers who hold hardline views on the North could defect to the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which would welcome such a move.

The Bareunmirae Party held a four-hour lawmakers’ meeting on Monday. Its members engaged in a fervent discussion over whether the party should cooperate with the ruling Democratic Party to ratify the joint agreement, which was repeatedly requested by President Moon Jae-in over the past few months.

Supporters of the joint agreement even invited Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon to the intraparty meeting at the National Assembly to make the case for ratifying the declaration. The government says that ratifying the Panmunjom Declaration is critical to show unity for inter-Korean cooperation and peace in the region.

Sohn Hak-kyu, the chairman of the Bareunmirae Party, expressed his support for ratifying the declaration before the lawmakers’ meeting. He stressed that the party should rid itself of “Cold War-era mindset” and “transform itself as a party that champions a peace process.”

“The Bareunmirae must choose this path,” he said on Monday during an earlier party leadership meeting.

He went out of his way to emphasize that the denuclearization process and efforts to establish permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula had become an “irreversible trend.” He made note of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth visit to Pyongyang and meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Sunday.

But instead of deciding on whether the party supported or objected the ratification, Kim Kwan-young, the Bareunmirae floor leader, said after the lawmakers’ meeting on Monday that a majority agreed that the declaration “was not subject to parliamentary ratification.”

Kim said that the president should ratify it himself, a position he adopted in order to avoid offending both pro-ratification and anti-ratification members.

Party members that came from the Bareun Party are strong opponents of ratification. They are at odds with fellow party members from the People’s Party from the Jeolla region in Korea’s southwest, a liberal stronghold.

Rep. Ji Sang-wuk, who hails from the Bareun Party, is one of the critics of ratification.

Ji and his allies left the meeting room Monday before the unification minister arrived at the scene to protest the party’s invitation of the minister, putting the party’s wide gulf on North Korea policy on display.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]