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Saenuri defectors to launch new conservative party in January

The would-be dissenters of the ruling Saenuri Party announced Friday a plan to establish their own political party in mid-January. The remaining lawmakers, meanwhile, have appointed an emergency leadership.

“The new party will represent the true conservative (spirit) and set its core principles to center around citizens,” Rep. Choung Byoung-gug said after a meeting of Saenuri defectors early Friday morning.

Thirty-four Saenuri lawmakers announced their intention to defect en masse on Wednesday. They plan to officially leave the conservative ruling bloc next Tuesday.

Tentatively called “New Conservative Party for Reform,” the envisioned party will formally launch in the middle of next month before Lunar New Year’s Day, around Jan. 20, Rep. Choung said. The new party is open to coalition with other political parties and lawmakers, the lawmaker said. 

Former Saenuri Party chief Rep. Kim Moo-sung (left) and the former party whip Rep. Yoo Seung-min attend a meeting held to discuss a plan to establish their own political party on Friday. (Yonhap)
Former Saenuri Party chief Rep. Kim Moo-sung (left) and the former party whip Rep. Yoo Seung-min attend a meeting held to discuss a plan to establish their own political party on Friday. (Yonhap)


Two former Saenuri Party chiefs, Reps. Kim Moo-sung and Yoo Seong-min -- who are among the 34 -- have made clear their intentions to join the new group, although the exact number of founding members had not yet been revealed Tuesday, explained Rep. Hwang Yeong-cheul, who had been speaking for the group of defectors.

The move came as an internal feud between two party factions -- a larger group still loyal to President Park Geun-hye and more reform-minded members critical of the scandal-ridden president -- deepened following the Dec. 9 impeachment of Park.

The conservative president has been mired in an explosive political scandal, accused of having allowed her civilian confidante Choi Soon-sil to meddle in state affairs and having colluded with her to extort funds from major conglomerates.

Also on Friday, pro-president lawmakers remaining with the Saenuri Party appointed a new head for its emergency leadership committee -- a pastor named In Myeong-jin who formerly chaired the party’s ethics committee.

“The party’s factions have crossed the Rubicon,” said Saenuri Floor Leader Rep. Chung Woo-taik, expressing disappointment at the dissenters’ plan to form their own party.

Rep. Cho Won-jin, a pro-President Park loyalist, called it a “groundless and irresponsible act.”

The Saenuri Party is currently the largest political party in South Korea by representation, controlling 128 seats of the 300-member National Assembly. After the breakup, its presence will be reduced to 94.

The party has been suffering from dwindling public support since the presidential scandal erupted in October. In a poll, conducted by RealMeter between Monday and Wednesday, public support of the party stood at 20.2 percent, rising 3 percentage points from the previous week.

The Saenuri Party’s main opposition rival, the Democratic Party of Korea, garnered 35 percent in the same poll.

Saenuri defectors, conscious of widespread voter disillusionment with the conservatives who have been in power for two consecutive administrations, said their new party will be “totally reformed” and will open their headquarters to citizens.

“We will reject any kind of hegemonies, regardless of who becomes the party chief. The headquarters would be like an open square for people to share opinions,” said Rep. Hwang.

The party members would chip in the funds for the new party while it also brings in citizens’ donations. The appointment of the party chief and other leadership positions will be decided in the launch process, he added.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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