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Conservatives look for ray of hope after bitter loss

As a liberal administration returns with Moon Jae-in’s sweeping victory in the presidential election Tuesday, the conservative bloc now faces challenges in navigating the next five years.

Despite the conservatives’ defeat, their future may not be so bleak. Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party came in second with 24 percent of votes while Yoo Seong-min of the splinter Bareun Party was fourth with 6.8 percent. Moon clinched victory with 41.1 percent of the 32 million votes.

Hong Joon-pyo, the candidate of the Liberty Korea Party, speaks at the party‘s head office in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Hong Joon-pyo, the candidate of the Liberty Korea Party, speaks at the party‘s head office in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

In the wake of the corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye, the two conservative parties rose from the Saenuri Party’s internal feud, which occurred between the leadership loyal to Park and its dissenters. Some 31 lawmakers defected to create the Bareun Party in January. The two conservative parties struggled with faltering approval ratings, garnering only one-digit figures at one time.

During the election period, calls arose for the two conservative candidates to establish a conservative alliance to prevent the liberals from taking the next administration. Thirteen lawmakers from the splinter Bareun Party returned “home” to the Liberty Korea Party. However, presidential candidates Hong and Yoo failed to reach an agreement.

While pre-election opinion polls showed Hong and Yoo standing at third and fifth places, respectively, the two fared better than expected on Election Day.

After seeing exit polls at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Hong said that he would accept the results. He said that he was satisfied that he had “salvaged” the party that was at the bottom of public sentiment last December.

Yoo Seong-min of the splinter Bareun Party (Yonhap)
Yoo Seong-min of the splinter Bareun Party (Yonhap)

As for Yoo, who failed to reach two-digit support in the election, the race was still an “achievement” for the minor party.

“It was a lonely race, but I found a seed of hope with your support,” Yoo said at the party’s headquarters late Tuesday.

In his campaign, he had put forth the idea that his party remains a “reformist conservative,” cutting ties with the “old conservatives with vested rights.”

As for the possibility of reuniting with the Liberty Korea Party, Yoo hinted that he would keep his distance.

Rep. Kim Moo-sung, a six-term lawmaker and a key figure in the creation of the Bareun Party, reiterated the party’s firm resolve to remain independent Wednesday.

“We will gain back the trust of the citizens by differentiating ourselves from the Liberty Korea Party and pursuing the values of change and progressive conservatism,” he said.

Still, the question remains as to whether the two parties will reunite. For the two parties to solidify their bases and survive as conservatives, they would have to increase their presence in the local election slated for June 2018.

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