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Saenuri separatists to leave party Tuesday

Dozens of lawmakers were set to leave the ruling Saenuri Party on Tuesday and form their own parliamentary negotiating bloc ahead of the establishment of a new political party in mid-January, the lawmakers said Monday.

About 30 Saenuri members, including former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and Jeju Province Gov. Won Hee-ryong, neither of whom hold parliamentary seats, will join them in defecting from the Saenuri Party and launching the new conservative party, they said.
Former Seoul Mayor Oh-Se-hoon (right) joins a meeting of the preparatory committee for a new conservative political party, which is being pushed by a separatist group of the governing Saenuri Party, at the National Assembly in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
Former Seoul Mayor Oh-Se-hoon (right) joins a meeting of the preparatory committee for a new conservative political party, which is being pushed by a separatist group of the governing Saenuri Party, at the National Assembly in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
“We will officially leave the party at 10 a.m. (Tuesday) and will thoroughly discuss the new party’s policies and appoint the new chief,” Rep. Oh Shin-hwan, the spokesperson for the would-be defectors told reporters after the group’s meeting Monday morning.

While the exact number has yet to be confirmed, some 30 members are expected to quit and register with the National Assembly as a new negotiating bloc on the same day.

The group aims to launch a new party, tentatively called “New Conservative Party for Reform,” on Jan. 24. 

The separatists are seeking to recruit UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who topped the latest poll of potential presidential candidates and whose term at the UN ends later this week. Ban is to return to Korea on Jan. 15, a person close to him said Monday.

The division of the country’s ruling party came as the internal feud deepened between its two factions after the Dec. 9 impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. 

The group of dissenters, united over their criticism of the president, faces a key challenge ahead, as member lawmakers carry differing views on the new party’s principal policies.

Rep. Yoo Seong-min, a bigwig Saenuri rebel, has revealed several times via media outlets that he will pursue a “warm and righteous” conservative party, hinting at a possible shift in conservative policies.

While he basically agrees with the Saenuri Party’s stance on national defense and the recent diplomatic deals made with the US and Japan, economy and welfare policies need some “bold reforms.”

“I believe conservative parties should also care for the society’s bipolarization and inequality problems and need to come up with some bold policies for social change,” Rep. Yoo said during a radio interview Monday. “Reforms in taxation and the labor industry are crucial.”

The Park administration agreed with the US over deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system and signed a military intelligence-sharing pact last month with Japan. The two controversial moves have been criticized by the liberal parties on their legitimacy, citing the “hasty” decision-making process.

As some lawmakers are reportedly hesitating on whether to join the new party, Rep. Kim Moo-sung, formerly a chief of Saenuri Party, said nothing has been decided about the new party platform and that the new party is open to diversity in opinions.

For the party’s interim chief position, Rep. Na Kyong-won and Rep. Joo Ho-young are viewed as strong candidates. Rep. Na, a fourth-term lawmaker had previously been recommended for the floor leader position of the Saenuri ruling party, but lost to Park loyalist Rep. Chung Woo-taik.

The remaining Park loyalists in the ruling party vowed to restructure the Saenuri Party.

“A shake-up in personnel and the party’s platform policies is urgent. I will make sure citizens’ opinions are reflected in our party reforms,” said In Myung-jin, who was recently designated the chief of the Saenuri Party’s emergency committee.

Regarding the defections, he expressed disappointment, but said they should reunite one day, as they have spent years together sharing the same conservative values.

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