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Bareun head welcomes a merger with People’s Party

Dec 22,2017
Yoo Seong-min, head of the Bareun Party, on Thursday welcomed a proposal by People’s Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo for a merger of their minor opposition parties the previous day.

“The Bareun Party welcomes People’s Party Chairman Ahn’s decision and would like to tell the people that we plan to join the path toward reform with them for the future of our people,” Yoo said at a meeting of supreme council members and lawmakers at the National Assembly.

He then called on the Bareun Party to open negotiation channels with the People’s Party to discuss the merger. Rep. Oh Shin-hwan, a two-term lawmaker, and Rep. Jeong Woon-chun, a first-term lawmaker from Jeolla, were appointed that day to lead Bareun Party’s negotiations toward a merger.

Yoo said he has spoken directly with Ahn about a merger and that he remained “flexible” taking into consideration the year-end schedule and the deliberation that each party would have to undertake.

Ahn in a press conference Wednesday proposed a vote on a merger with Bareun, which splintered from the conservative Saenuri Party which became the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP). He staked his chairmanship on the outcome of the ballot.

The People’s Party on Thursday held a general meeting to deliberate on holding a vote on the consolidation of the two parties, which has also some ardent detractors, mainly from the Honam region, referring to Gwangju and the North and South Jeolla provinces, a traditionally liberal stronghold. Park Jie-won, a Jeolla native and former head of the People’s Party, rejected the merger immediately and has sharply criticized Ahn for the decision.

“How can he be president when he runs away whenever he faces difficulties?” Park told TBS radio Thursday, speaking of Ahn. “Chairman Ahn has no right to speak of DJ,” referring to former liberal President Kim Dae-jung, and criticizing the Bareun Party members’ past ties with the party of impeached former President Park Geun-hye.

The party plans to conduct online and telephone polls of its members from Dec. 27 to 30 and announce the results of the ballot on Dec. 31. But even if the vote comes in favor of a merger, the party will still have to hold a convention to formalize the decision.

A merger with the Bareun Party and a push for a more centrist platform to do so could prompt more liberal People’s Party lawmakers, many from the Jeolla region, to defect.

There is also interest to see what sort of role the People’s Party’s Sohn Hak-kyu, a former Gyeonggi governor, will play in the case of a merger.

Ahn clinched the presidential ticket for the People’s Party, beating out primary rival Sohn, who had defected from the Democratic Party early this year. Sohn went onto support Ahn’s presidential campaign. He has amicable relations with a wide range of people, so he may be able to play a mediating role amid party factionalism.

Sohn, a former chairman of the Democratic Party, served as a visiting scholar to Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center since October. He was set to return to Korea next Wednesday but returned earlier by one week Thursday amid the party consolidation vote.

Ahn said Wednesday that he had not been able to have a deep conversation with Sohn after he left for the United States and hoped to do so when he returned. Sohn told Yonhap News Agency over phone that he plans to see the situation on the merger when he returned home “and see what sort of role I can play in it.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]