Dropouts step up moves to form separate conservative force
Signs of division among the country’s conservatives deepened as Saenuri Party members denied candidacy for the forthcoming general elections stepped up moves to run as independents, join another party or form a new one.
In particular, Saenuri members loyal to President Lee Myung-bak have strongly resisted the party’s decision not to nominate them, calling it a “massacre,” amid the rise of the faction affiliated with party chairwoman Park Geun-hye.
Observers say such cracks in the conservative bloc could divide their vote and reduce their chances of winning in the April 11 elections as liberal opposition forces are working to form a broad strategic alliance.
Former Saenuri leader Rep. Ahn Sang-soo and Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation Chairman Kim Deok-ryong are moving to form a new conservative alliance with the so-called pro-Lee members who failed to secure party nomination.
Ahn and Kim failed to get the party ticket for the elections.
Former Health and Welfare Minister Rep. Chin Soo-hee, a high-profile President Lee loyalist, indicated on Sunday that she would leave the party, calling on the party to reconsider its decision to deny her candidacy.
Last Friday, Rep. Chun Yu-ok quit the party and joined the newly established Korea Vision Party, saying that she decided to leave to “shore up the crumbling conservative values.”
The Saenuri Party has recently moved leftward in its election-year policy plans, which some members upbraided for undermining its conservative identity and values.
Amid such signs of a split in the conservative camp, attention has been drawn to what political steps Chung Un-chan, a former prime minister who now heads the Commission on Shared Growth for Large and Small Companies, will make.
Conservative parties including the KVP have reportedly strived to court him as Chung, once mentioned as a strong presidential contender, has a considerable political allure that could help boost their chances in the elections.
Park Se-il, a former lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party who formed the KVP last month, and Kim Deok-ryong are said to have contacted Chung on several occasions and discussed the issue of creating a new conservative group.
On Friday, President Lee reportedly invited Chung to a luncheon meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, sparking speculation that they might have discussed the former prime minister’s role in the elections, possibly in favor of Lee’s followers denied candidacy.
Cheong Wa Dae dismissed any political interpretation of Lee’s invitation, saying that they met to discuss issues involving Chung’s commission.
Park Se-il is apparently seeking to capitalize on the defection of high-profile lawmakers from the ruling party to bolster the political standing of his party, which seeks to include “reform-minded conservatives and reasonable liberals.”
Park’s party apparently hopes to attract at least five incumbent lawmakers from the Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party and merge with the conservative minority Liberty Forward Party with 15 lawmakers.
With 20 lawmakers, the KVP would be able to form a formal parliamentary negotiating group, which would give it a bigger legislative voice in the National Assembly.
Should pro-Lee members denied candidacy in the ruling party form an independent alliance, it could pose a challenge to the Saenuri Party, observers said.
"What we should sever is the legacy of the past dictatorial politics. What we should not sever is the traditional conservative values and spirit,” said Kim Deok-ryong, apparently targeting Saenuri leader Park, the daughter of former general-turned-president Park Chung-hee.
Meanwhile, the Saenuri Party confirmed its fifth batch of candidates for 15 more constituencies. Seven of them were selected through internal contests, while the rest were selected without primaries.
The party picked Hong Ji-man, former SBS news anchor, for the Dalseo-gap district in Daegu and Yoon Jae-ok, former chief of the provincial police agency in North Gyeongsang Province, for the metropolis Dalseo-eul district.
However, fourth-term lawmaker, Park Jong-keun, was denied candidacy. Park is one of the lawmakers loyal to the party chairwoman.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)