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Bareun Party splits, boosting fortunes of Liberty Korea Party

May 02,2017
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Thirteen lawmakers of the Bareun Party, a spinoff from the former ruling Saenuri Party, announce their decision to return to their old party, now renamed the Liberty Korea Party, and expressed their support for Hong Joon-pyo, its presidential candidate, in the press briefing room of the National Assembly on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
Abandoning their party and its underdog presidential candidate Yoo Seong-min, 13 lawmakers of the Bareun Party on Tuesday declared their support for Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party, indicating a massive conservative realignment ahead of next week’s election.

Reps. Kweon Seong-dong, Kim Sung-tae, Kim Jae-kyung, Kim Hack-yong, Park Sung-joong, Park Soon-ja, Yeo Sang-koo, Lee Koon-kyon, Chang Je-won, Hong Moon-pyo, Hong Il-pyo and Hwang Young-cheul held a press conference at the National Assembly and said they will rejoin the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and support Hong.

Another lawmaker, Jeong Woon-chun, said he will leave the Bareun Party today after consulting with his constituents.

“Many people who are affectionate and supportive of the conservatives have made a strong demand that they must not split and the conservatives must unite to stop the victory of the pro-North Korea, leftist candidate,” the 13 lawmakers said in a statement announced at the press conference. “We will do our best for the victory of Hong and the conservatives.”

The Bareun Party was launched on Jan. 24, 2017, by former Saenuri Party lawmakers who were disgruntled with pro-Park Geun-hye lawmakers’ unwavering loyalty to the former president in the days leading up to her impeachment on Dec. 9, 2016. The Saenuri Party later changed its name to LKP in an attempt to distance itself from the embarrassing political scandal.

The lawmakers’ decision to abandon the Bareun Party was made after they met with Hong late Monday night. As Yoo’s approval rating showed no signs of budging from around 5 percent, Bareun lawmakers increasingly proposed the idea of a merger of the candidacies of Yoo, Hong and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party. They said that was the only chance to defeat frontrunner Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party.

While Yoo and Ahn resisted the idea, some Bareun lawmakers and Hong managed to push it forward.

The party already lost lawmaker Lee Eun-jae and its number of legislators has shrunk from 33 to 32. When the 14 lawmakers’ departure is confirmed, the Bareun Party will be reduced to 18 lawmakers and lose its status as a negotiation bloc inside the National Assembly. A negotiation bloc requires at least 20 lawmakers.

After the lawmakers made their decision public, Yoo, elected as the Bareun Party’s presidential candidate through a nationwide primary, made clear he will complete the race.

“I feel heartbroken,” he said. “I wanted to walk this extremely difficult and tough road with them, but I also understand why they made the decision.”

Hong and the leadership of the LKP welcomed the Bareun lawmakers’ mass defection. “During a presidential race, everything has its use,” Hong said. “We better operate this campaign with a grand unity. Some inside the party may feel uncomfortable because of unsettled emotional baggage, but for the sake of conservative unity, they must return to us.”

Rep. Lee Cheol-woo, a chief manager of Hong’s campaign, also welcomed the 13 lawmakers’ decision. “We must use this as an important moment to unite the conservatives to deter the leftist,” he said.

The LKP said the Bareun lawmakers’ support will add momentum to Hong’s growing popularity. Hong, whose approval rating was only 9.6 percent earlier this month, scored 16.5 percent in the latest JoongAng Ilbo poll conducted Sunday and Monday, closing in on Ahn’s 21.8 percent. The Hong campaign said it expects more conservatives to step up and support Hong.

“Because veteran lawmakers with organized powers are joining the campaign, they may show some influence in their districts,” Yoon Jong-bin, professor of political science at Myongji University, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “But it is unclear if their powers will be strong enough to reshape the entire flow of the election.”

Even if Hong loses the election, he and the LKP will be able to enjoy significant power. As of now, the LKP occupies 94 seats in the 300-member National Assembly and its presence will be able to grow to as large as 108 if it takes in 14 Bareun lawmakers. The Democratic Party, the largest political group in the legislature, has 119 lawmakers. If Moon wins the election, he will need the rival party’s cooperation in the legislature.

But a factional split in the LKP poses a challenge to the return of the Bareun lawmakers. Park loyalists blame them for Park’s impeachment and the failure of her presidency, and say their return is unacceptable.

“There is no justification for their return,” Rep. Suh Chung-won, the most senior member of the pro-Park faction, said. “The people and the party members cannot understand their decision. There is an old saying that even a flea has a face to save. If they are lawmakers, they should at least have moral principle, let alone a political philosophy.”

Of the Bareun lawmakers who decided to abandon the party, Rep. Kweon was the head of the presidential impeachment committee. He acted as the prosecutor in Park’s impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court. Rep. Kim Sung-tae was head of the National Assembly’s special investigation committee into the abuse of power and corruption scandal involving Park and her confidantes.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]