Former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Tuesday joined the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, distancing himself from irregularities under ousted former President Park Geun-hye and emphasizing “unity” as a key value, amid political parties’ criticism of his party membership.
Hwang’s return to politics has ramped up competition at the conservative party’s national convention next month, with the real possibility he may run for the party’s leadership and in the 2022 presidential race.
Referring to Hwang’s membership as “the beginning of season two of Park Geun-hye,” the ruling party and minor opposition parties criticized Hwang for returning to politics despite his role in the Park administration.
“The government is obsessing over the past. We need to create a better country with the spirit of unity. ... I have decided to join the party to practice proper politics free from factions,” Hwang said during a press conference at the National Assembly.
Hwang briefly apologized for the fiasco under the Park administration, under which he had served in key posts, but he distanced himself from irregularities that took place.
“I cannot agree to all government employees (that had worked under Park) being labeled in relation to the deep-rooted corrupt practices,” he added.
Viewed as a pro-Park figure, Hwang served as the 63rd minister of justice and 44th prime minister, as well as acting president between December 2016 and May 2017.
Hwang chose not to run in the 19th presidential elections in 2017, as election law requires public officials to leave office 30 days before entering the race, which would have left the office of president vacant.
Emphasizing unity among the public and party members, Hwang provided vague answers to questions as to his thoughts on whether Park’s impeachment was legitimate. The main opposition party is pushing for a trial without physical detention for the still imprisoned Park.
Former prime minister Hwang Hyo-ahn (center) walks to a press conference after announcing his Liberty Korea Party membership on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Meanwhile, other political parties pointed out Hwang’s membership would revert the Liberty Korea Party to extreme conservatism, citing Hwang’s key roles in the Park administration.
“Former Prime Minister Hwang was a key figure in the Park administration who took office as justice minister and prime minister,” said Kim Tae-nyeon, chief policymaker of the ruling Democratic Party.
“Without a single apology, a figure responsible for the fiasco and subject to a slew of allegations has stepped into politics, receiving attention as the next party representative. This is a tragedy to Korea’s conservative circle.”
Minor opposition Bareunmirae Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu also held Hwang accountable for the influence-peddling scandal involving Park, saying, “If Hwang takes over the Liberty Korea Party, it would go back to extreme conservatism.”
With all eyes on Hwang’s next move, Hwang said, “I will fully listen to what the public wants and make a decision that does not fall short of their wishes,” leaving the door open to the possibility of running at the party convention.
Rep. Kim Moo-sung of the Liberty Korea Party, also named as a possible candidate for the 2022 presidential election, showed a mixed reaction to Hwang’s membership.
While welcoming Hwang, Kim warned that “heated competition among potential presidential candidates at the party convention may split the party.”
Kim reaffirmed his position that he would not compete in the election for party leadership.
By Kim Bo-gyung (email@example.com