Ahn exit divides NPAD dissenters

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Dec 14, 2015 - 18:05
  • Updated : Dec 14, 2015 - 18:07

The defection of the main opposition party’s former leader Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo appeared to leave the party’s dissenting lawmakers with a tough choice: join him or wait for the public reaction to his departure in the opinion polls.

The chaotic power struggle within the New Politics Alliance for Democracy was also seen as a reason for the delay in inter-party negotiations over how to draw up next year’s constituencies. The registration of preliminary candidates is set to begin on Tuesday without a clear agreement on the electoral map.

While some NPAD dissenters were set to announce their defection early this week, others, who have demanded the resignation of chairman Rep. Moon Jae-in, reserved their decision on whether to leave.

The division between the NPAD dissenters came after Ahn vowed to form his own opposition group on Sunday. Comparing his defection to Steve Jobs being kicked out of Apple in 1985, he pledged on Monday to transform the “old-fashioned” liberal parties in a way that can rival the conservative bloc in the 2016 general election. 

“Steve Jobs was the founder of Apple, but he was kicked out by John Sculley. Now what happens next is up to Steve Jobs,” said Ahn, comparing himself to the late innovator. Ahn on Monday submitted documents to finalize his defection from the NPAD. 

NPAD former cochairman Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo. Yonhap

Ahn’s close confidant Rep. Moon Byeong-ho announced that he and Reps. Yoo Sung-yup and Hwang Ju-hong would leave the party either Tuesday or Wednesday. He expected that up to 30 NPAD lawmakers would leave the party by the end of this year.

Reps. Yoo and Hwang, whose constituencies are in the NPAD stronghold of South Jeolla Province, have hinted at their departure since they refused to undergo the party’s assessment to determine underachieving lawmakers ahead of the election nominations.

But a majority of NPAD dissenters remained more cautious about their possible defection. While continuing to pressure Moon to step down, the nonmainstream factions were seen as closely watching the voters’ mood in their constituencies to determine whether the voters will tilt toward Ahn or remain supportive of Moon.

“Moon should be held accountable (for Ahn’s departure) and help us bring the party back on track … but whether or not to defect is up to individual lawmakers. We are not planning on a mass defection,” said Rep. Choi Won-sik, who leads one of the biggest NPAD nonmainstream factions.

Many of the constituencies at stake are in the NPAD stronghold of South Jeolla Province, where Ahn and Moon Jae-in have competed for approval ratings. According to the local pollster Realmeter, the voters have alternated between the two for their preferred NPAD presidential candidate.

Other dissenting NPAD bigwigs such as Rep. Joo Seung-yong also took a cautious approach. The third-term lawmaker, who represents a district in South Jeolla Province, wrote on Facebook, “I have constantly insisted that we should prevent further NPAD division.”

National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa, meanwhile, urged the floor leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party and the NPAD to come up with the new electoral map as soon as possible.

“It could create a legislative emergency,” he said, indicating he may choose to exercise his power to put other relevant bills submitted by the National Election Commission for a vote unless the parties come up with a compromise by the end of this month.

If the lawmakers fail to come up with new constituency maps by Dec. 31, when the efficacy of the current zones expires, the country will be on course to head into the general election without any constituencies in place.

“Without the rival parties’ consensus, all your constituencies will become void from the 31st and all preliminary candidates will be forced to suspend their campaigns,” Chung said.

The parties, which are required to agree on constituency boundaries ahead of every parliamentary general election, have not met a single legal deadline.

The lawmakers have clashed over the rules that will determine the number of seats for the lawmakers elected through votes at local constituencies and the seats for those who obtain their parliamentary seats through proportional representation.

The Saenuri Party has favored a plan to reduce the number of proportional representation seats, but the NPAD and another minor opposition party insist the 54 seats given to the proportional representation scheme remain the same.

Despite the constant standoff over how to redraw electoral maps, the rival parties made a breakthrough on Monday by agreeing to pass revised bills related to election rules. Among them are a bill that authorizes the use of phone calls to survey the selected voters who will determine the parties’ nomination for the elections.

According to the bill, the political parties can assign the voters a secured phone number to collect their opinions on the parties’ agenda, including the nomination of candidates for the elections. The rival party leaders had agreed to adopt the system in September, but has remained deadlocked over the opposition from Cheong Wa Dae.

While advocates assert that the move would grant voters the right to choose their own representatives, Cheong Wa Dae had insisted that the phone-based survey would skew the public opinion and cost too much in taxpayers’ money.

By Yeo Jun-suk (