[Newsmaker] Conservatives’ ‘progressive dilemma’

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Apr 24, 2017 - 15:57
  • Updated : Apr 24, 2017 - 17:22
In an unprecedented development, the country’s normally united conservatives are divided, with several presidential contenders each claiming they are the “true conservative.”

Conservative front-runner Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party claims he is the “legitimate son” of conservativism and that other right-wing groups should support his campaign. Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party, meanwhile, claims he is the “conservatives’ new hope.”

With conservative voters divided and support ratings at the worst levels recorded for right-wing candidates, talks of an alliance continue to emerge, with only two weeks left until the May 9 vote.

Such division and talk of alliances with other parties are issues the country’s left are more accustomed to, as conservatives have maintained a more or less united front for much of Korea’s short democratic history.

Conservative front-runner Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party (L) and Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party (Yonhap)

“(Conservatives) should concentrate their strength behind the candidate with a higher possibility of winning,” Liberty Korea Party’s election committee joint chief Hwang Woo-yea said Monday.

Hwang was a five-term lawmaker who maintains close ties to former President Park Geun-hye.

Yoo has remained unfazed by such demands, but he is facing increasing opposition even from within his own party.

The party was scheduled to hold a general meeting late Monday, at which Yoo’s candidacy and a possible alliance with other parties was on the agenda.

“There will be a candid discussion between Yoo and party lawmakers on many issues regarding the campaign and (the party’s) direction,” Bareun Party’s Deputy Floor Leader Rep. Cheong Yang-seog said.

Even minor candidates are jumping on the bandwagon.

Rep. Cho Won-jin of the single-seat Saenuri Party declared Saturday that he would merge his campaign with that of Hong, suggesting a televised debate.

Despite his lack of presence, Cho -- at near zero support in the most recent Gallup Korea poll -- appears to believe that legitimacy is on his side. In addition, Cho’s idea of reuniting the conservatives comes with yet another twist.

Unlike Hong and the Liberty Korea Party that hopes to bring the Bareun Party “home,” Cho’s definition of the conservative bloc excludes the Bareun Party.

“(Hong and Yoo) have campaigned for months and (their ratings) remain below 10 percent, this means that conservative right-wing people have already passed judgement,” Cho said during a rally Saturday. Describing Yoo as a traitor, Cho said that if Hong collaborates with the Bareun Party candidate he would also become a traitor.

While the issue of uniting the conservatives remains unresolved, Hong is facing trouble on a more personal level.

Hong, who has been criticized for his views on a wide range of issues, including those on “women’s jobs” and sexual minorities, now faces accusations of having colluded in a possible sex crime.

The latest obstacle has come from his 12-year-old autobiography. The book contains an anecdote from his college days when he provided a substance used to induce mating in pigs to a friend to be used on a female student.

The story has incited severe criticism from all sides. His rivals have raised calls for him to resign as the Liberty Korea Party’s presidential candidate.

By Choi He-suk (