The internal feud of the Liberal Korea Party is getting worse and worse, darkening prospects for an early rehabilitation of the nation’s conservative political forces devastated by the fall of former President Park Geun-hye and their loss in the presidential election that followed.
At the center of the strife are party leader Hong Joon-pyo and Park loyalists in the party led by veteran lawmaker Suh Chung-won. The latest round of conflicts between the two started with the party’s decision last week to demand Park renounce her party membership.
The party’s Ethics Committee also asked Suh and former Deputy Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan, another key Park loyalist, to leave the party.
The decision was part of the main opposition party’s endeavors to break away from the legacy of Park, whose fall from grace greatly damaged the conservative political base, as seen in Hong’s defeat by a large margin in the presidential election in May.
By kicking Park and her associates out of the party, Hong also wanted to pave the way for a merger with the Bareun Party, a minor opposition party built by those who bolted from the Liberty Korea Party in the wake of the President Park and Choi Soon-sil corruption and influence-peddling scandal.
As his critics claim, Hong may gain a firmer control of the party by ousting the unpopular Park and her loyalists, but that should not justify people like Park, Suh and Choi digging in their heels.
Not surprisingly, the counterattack has been spearheaded by Suh, an eighth-term lawmaker with ample experience in playing the political game. This time, he is targeting Hong’s weakest point – his implication in corruption.
Hong is standing trial after he was indicted in 2015 on a charge of receiving money from a businessman who killed himself in the middle of a scandal that involved Hong and about a dozen other senior politicians.
A lower court found Hong guilty of taking 100 million ($89,000) from Sung Woan-jong, chief of Keangnam Enterprise construction firm. An appeals court overturned the ruling, however, and Hong awaits a verdict from the Supreme Court.
Then Suh made a bombshell announcement last week, alleging that during the state prosecution’s investigation into the case, Hong had asked him to urge a man involved in the case -- someone close to Suh -- not to testify unfavorably against him. Sung said before taking his life that the man -- a former journalist who moved to Sung’s company -- acted as a middleman when he gave the money to Hong.
Suh’s allegation saw the political battle descend into mudslinging. But what should be noted is that Suh said he kept a transcript of a recorded conversation that backs up his argument. Hong denied the allegation and demanded Suh make the transcript public.
Politics aside, such a transcript has the potential to become evidence that could sway the court’s decision in the Hong case. Such potential obliges Suh to disclose whatever he has in possession.
How Suh’s claim evolves could affect not only Hong’s trial, but also the political fate of the two politicians. But whoever turns out to be right, the mudslinging itself is further eroding public trust in a party that had long been a conservative bastion.
Now calls are growing in the party -- especially among junior lawmakers -- for both Hong and Suh to step down.
Given Suh’s shameless refusal to accept responsibility for the failure of the Park administration and Hong’s flawed leadership, oft-ridiculed behavior and coarse language, the junior lawmakers’ call is certain to gain force. That would be a good development for the party, and more importantly, resuscitation of the nation’s conservatives that have to prepare for local elections in June next year.