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Ahn’s center-right opposition party officially launches

A new center-right party founded by Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo was officially launched Tuesday, pledging to emerge as the third-biggest party in the April general election and break the country’s two party duopoly. 

Newly elected cochairmen Ahn and Rep. Chun Jung-bae, the former chairman of the People’s Reform Party, announced that they would represent an alternative to the conservative ruling Saenuri Party and The Minjoo Party of Korea, the main opposition party.

“Today the People’s Party declares an end to the old politics. We will embark on a journey of political reform that no one has ever taken. We will fight against the established two party system,” Ahn said at the party caucus.
Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo (second from left) and Rep. Chun Jung-bae (left) attend the party’s caucus in Daejeon on Tuesday. Yonhap
Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo (second from left) and Rep. Chun Jung-bae (left) attend the party’s caucus in Daejeon on Tuesday. Yonhap

Vowing to prevent the Saenuri Party gaining a supermajority in the election, the former presidential candidate described the parliamentary election as an event that would make or break his five-year political career. “I will stake everything I have on the election,” he said.

But the prospects of the new party as the third-biggest political bloc are uncertain, as it faces challenges in resonating with moderate voters amid its struggle to build a parliamentary body with negotiating power.

As of Tuesday, the fledging party had a total of 17 incumbent lawmakers, three seats short of the number required to establish a negotiating group. If it forms a negotiating group, the party can receive government subsidies and exercise tie-breaking votes between the major parties.

While other independent lawmakers and liberal heavyweights, such as former presidential candidate Chung Dong-young, hesitated to join the party, the new political group suffered faltering support, further dampened by several party members’ political blunders. 

A survey by local pollster Realmeter found Tuesday that the People’s Party had a support rating of 13.1 percent, down from its peak of 20.7 percent two weeks ago. The ruling Saenuri Party and The Minjoo Party of Korea recorded support ratings of 40.6 and 26.9 percent, respectively.

Experts said the new party should equip itself with more specific agenda than those previously espoused by Ahn. The businessman-turned-politician’s slogan “new politics” has been accused of lacking substance.

“Although Ahn touted creating new politics, I don’t think the voters grasp what the new politics will be. The party needs to specify its political agenda and accept more renowned figures before fully beginning the election campaign in March,” said Choi Jin, the chairman of the Institute of Presidential Leadership. 

Last month, the party leadership and staff found themselves at the center of controversy over a remark about the nation’s first President Seungman Rhee and the former first lady Lee Hee-ho, a wife of the late President Kim Dae-joong.

Senior party member Han Sang-jin told reporters on Jan 14 that the Korean people should recognize Rhee as the nation’s founding father. Critics denounced the remark, saying that Han overlooked the first president’s ruthless suppression of the democratic movement in the 1960s.

The party came under ethical scrutiny on Jan. 27, when a media report claimed the party officials had secretly recorded a conversation with the former president’s widow and intentionally exaggerated her words of encouragement.

By Yeo Jun-suk (