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[Newsmaker] Bareun Party buckles down for presidential election

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Published : 2017-01-24 16:47
Updated : 2017-01-24 18:12

Having taken sail as a new “reformative conservative” political entity, the Bareun Party now faces its greatest challenge -- scouting Ban Ki-moon in time for the upcoming presidential election, without being overshadowed by his celebrity.

The entry of the former United Nations secretary-general is a crucial variable to decide not only the election result, but the survival of the fledgling party.

The Bareun Party held the inauguration ceremony of its central headquarters at Jamsil Olympic Park on Tuesday, officially kicking off as a new political party.
Bareun Party Rep. Yoo Seong-min speaks during a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Tuesday (Yonhap)
Since spinning off from the ruling Saenuri Party in December last year, in a pledge to cut off ties with scandal-ridden President Park Geun-hye, the group of defectors have been seeking to establish a new conservative entity that could replace their former home camp.

Fifth-term lawmaker Rep. Choung Byoung-gug took office as initial chairman, while Reps. Joo Ho-young and Lee Jong-koo became floor leader and chief policymaker respectively.

The new leadership, along with key figures Reps. Kim Moo-sung and Yoo Seong-min, made a gesture of apology and self-reflection by kneeling down on the stage at the beginning of the ceremony.

“We apologize to our party members and to the people over the Choi Soon-sil scandal,” they said, distancing themselves from the corruption scandal of the presidential aide.

“We shall start anew as a righteous, compassionate conservative party.”

Also, the party added speed in its move to recruit Ban as a presidential candidate.

“I believe that Ban, after some trial and error, has now come to face reality,” said Rep. Choung in a radio interview with YTN on Tuesday morning.

“If he makes a choice in the current situation, it is only right that he should join the Bareun Party.”

The former top UN official, since returning to Korea on Jan. 12, has been making public appearances all across the nation, in an apparent move to prep for his presidential election campaign.

But he has neither proclaimed his bid in the election nor his membership in a political party. 

Up to last year, before the extensive corruption scandal involving President Park broke out, Ban was largely anticipated to enter the Saenuri Party and join hands with the pro-Park faction.

Now with the conservative camp split in half, Ban is thought to be considering a “big tent” that encompasses not only the Bareun Party, but also conservative-centrist figures, so as to expand his political leverage.

The Bareun Party’s scenario is that Ban should first join the party and start his presidential race as the party’s candidate.

Ban, on the other hand, is keeping a number of options open. One of them is to first form a power group with independent figures, such as former National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa and former opposition chief Sohn Hak-kyu, and later consider an alliance with the Bareun Party.

The former top diplomat sent his congratulations to the new party, while withholding his stance on joining it.

“I hope that (the Bareun Party) will make changes in the nation’s politics and present new hope to the people,” he said in a phone conversation with party chairman Choung.

With 32 lawmakers, the party is currently fourth-largest in the 300-seat parliament. Observers speculate it may even rise to third, surpassing the 38-member People’s Party, should additional Saenuri defectors decide to join the Bareun Party.

According to a survey conducted by Realmeter in the third week of January, the new party‘s support stood at 8.9 percent, down 2.4 percent from the previous week. That was lower than the 12.5 percent of the Saenuri Party.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)