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LKP candidates shift to far right

Front-runner Hwang suggests evidence in Park trial was fake
Feb 26,2019
With the main opposition Liberty Korea Party’s (LKP) divisive leadership election due to come to a close tomorrow, focus has now shifted to a controversial comment made by former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn last week that seemingly denies the legitimacy of former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment two years ago.

During a public debate on KBS last Thursday, Hwang was asked by his far-right rival whether he thinks a key piece of material evidence used to impeach and convict Park - a tablet PC belonging to her confidante, Choi Soon-sil - was fabricated.

Hwang replied that he personally thought that was the case, apparently endorsing what until now has been seen by most legal and political analysts as a far-right conspiracy theory.

“Regarding the tablet PC, I know that there have been inquires already made and that [Park’s] trial is proceeding based on incorrect elements,” Hwang added.

The “tablet PC controversy,” as it is called by diehard Park supporters, alleges that the broadcaster JTBC deliberately tampered with or faked the evidence altogether as part of a massive conspiracy to remove Park from office.

JTBC discovered the tablet PC in October 2016, exposing the influence that Choi had over Park.

The device contained a collection of government documents and speeches that served as irrefutable evidence that Choi, an unauthorized and un-elected figure, had been the power behind the throne in the Park Blue House, thus paving the way for the president’s eventual impeachment and conviction in 2017 for corruption and power abuse.

The fact that the tablet PC was found in Choi’s abandoned old office, seemingly by luck, led some conservatives to challenge JTBC. The idea that the broadcaster had faked the evidence has long been dismissed by the mainstream media after a court of law upheld the device’s authenticity based on forensic analysis results.

Hwang’s controversial views, however, appear to be the mainstay among supporters of the LKP, as the party undergoes a divisive leadership election that has seen most candidates relentlessly vowing to preserve Park’s legacy.

The weeks leading up to tomorrow’s convention have been marked by one controversy after another as candidates pandered to the so-called “Taegukgi Brigade” - a collection of militant far-right civic groups that vehemently protested Park’s removal.

That Taegukgi Brigade, once political untouchables whose activities were relegated to street protests, now appear to have become the core of the LKP’s support base, driving out more moderate voices hoping to see the conservative party return to a broader, more mainstream position.

Testifying to this shift to the fringes are the denigrating comments made by three lawmakers - including the runner-up in the leadership race, Kim Jin-tae - toward the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement, which caused a public outcry against the LKP. Kim and the other two lawmakers suggested that the movement - now revered as a legitimate struggle against the authoritarian government at the time - was a riot influenced by North Korea.

Only days later, the LKP once again grabbed headlines after one candidate running for a leadership seat on a youth ticket used over-the-top aggressive language to attack the Moon Jae-in administration, claiming he would impeach Moon’s “traitorous” gang if elected.

The single moderate voice standing out amid the rabble-rousing came from former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who tried to entreat those in the party hoping to move away from Park by claiming it was time for the LKP to seek a new path untainted by its association with the jailed president.

Such a stance from Oh, a defector from the party during Park’s impeachment who returned only last November to seek its leadership, apparently did little to sway the LKP’s rank and file, based on Sunday’s poll which had him trailing in last place after Hwang and Kim.

The former prime minister, who stood in for Park during the impeachment process, leads with an overwhelming 60.7 percent, making him the favorite to win tomorrow’s race.

The fact that Kim, who by most standards is a fringe candidate, stands second with 17.3 percent followed by Oh with only 15.4 percent also bears witness to just how important Park Geun-hye remains in the identity of the main opposition party.

While Hwang’s rise to the LKP’s chairmanship this month may accord him the influence to challenge the Moon government, analysts say the decision to embrace the far-right wing of the party may cost him the vast bulk of moderate voters in the coming parliamentary and presidential elections.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]