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[Newsmaker] Governor, lawmaker bolt from Saenuri Party

Calls mount for ruling party to choose between Park and voters

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Published : 2016-11-22 17:09
Updated : 2016-11-22 18:05

Two heavyweight members on Tuesday quit the ruling Saenuri Party, adding to its woes caused by a rift between President Park Geun-hye loyalists and members who side with the public’s overwhelming disapproval toward her.

The defecting pair -- Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil and third-term lawmaker Kim Yong-tae -- called on other Saenuri members to break away from a clearly wrongful past and join the opposition-led campaign to impeach Park over the scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil.

“A president who undermines the values of the Constitution and violates the law for the sake of personal interests does not deserve the mandate granted by the people,” Gyeonggi Gov. Nam, formerly a five-term lawmaker, told a press conference at the National Assembly. 

“A political party exists to serve public interests and realize its democratic values. Saenuri has lost its raison d’etre as a political party,” he added.
Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil (right) and thrid-term lawmaker Kim Yong-tae, both affiliated with the ruling Saenuri Party, attend a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul on Tuesday to announce their decision to leave the party. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
With Nam and Kim out, Saenuri now has 128 lawmakers, and is still the second-largest negotiating bloc in the 300-member parliament. Nam’s Gyeonggi Province is a key political battleground along with the capital Seoul, whose mayor is an opposition politician.

The Saenuri feud is deepening, with the faction that was less loyal to Park before the scandal having turned increasingly critical of the president.

The faction of Park loyalists, led by party Chairman Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, dominates the party’s leadership council. It is resisting growing calls from within the party to step down to allow new leadership to win back voters.

With Park’s poll numbers down to record lows, public support for Saenuri has also plummeted. According to Gallup Korea, Saenuri’s popularity is at 15 percent, the lowest for the conservative camp under Park’s leadership. Its main rival, the Democratic Party of Korea, has 31 percent support.

Whether Tuesday’s defections would trigger mass defections of other anti-Park members or lead to an eventual split of the party remains to be seen, political pundits said.

On the same day, Reps. Kim Moo-sung, Yoo Seong-min and other bigwigs in the anti-Park faction either refrained from commenting or ruled out the possibility of them following suit, at least in the short term.

Yet, with the opposition gathering signatures for the impeachment motion and the president gearing up for a legal battle to oppose the move, it will not be long before Saenuri lawmakers make their choice between Park and the public.

Rep. Choung Byoung-gug said, “Right now, Saenuri looks like Park’s private organization. We can’t go on like this.”

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)