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People’s Party hopefuls kick off race with war of words

The three-way race for the leadership of the centrist People’s Party effectively kicked off Sunday, with the candidates holding separate press meetings, denouncing each other and laying out their plans to salvage the crisis-hit party.

Ahn Cheol-soo, a former chief and previously the party’s presidential candidate, laid out plans to reshape it as a “small but strong opposition party.” 

From left: Rep. Chun Jung-bae, former party chairman Ahn Cheol-soo and Rep. Chung Dong-yong (Yonhap)
From left: Rep. Chun Jung-bae, former party chairman Ahn Cheol-soo and Rep. Chung Dong-yong (Yonhap)

“I made my decision to run for the chief position, solely based on the desperation to save the party,” Ahn said in a press conference at the National Assembly.

“The party is likely to face dissolution if it follows its current course. I have two goals for this party. I will make a small but strong party, and I will make a party that wins in the local election.”

He added that the party must remain as an independent organization to prevent the larger ruling and main opposition parties from dominating politics.

He suggested filling the party with younger lawmakers, and said at least 30 percent of the party’s candidates in the local elections, slated for June 13, will be chosen from those new to politics.

Ahn also reiterated the idea of “extreme centrism” which he brought up when he announced his run on Thursday, saying he will lead the party reform to pursue a South Korean version of “the Third Way.”

The party convention is scheduled for Aug. 27 and the two-day candidate registration starts Thursday. Ahn’s two rivals, four-term lawmaker Rep. Chung Dong-young and former co-chair Rep. Chun Jung-bae harshly condemned Ahn’s bid, saying he has triggered a feud inside the party.

Chun, a six-term lawmaker, called Ahn’s bid for candidacy, “unilateral” and “irresponsible.”

“After Ahn announced to run in the race for the chairmanship, the party is facing an escalating feud and is breaking in pieces,” Chun said in a press conference earlier in the day. “The one who should be taking the biggest responsibility for losing this year’s presidential election is Ahn. Does it make sense that the failed candidate is trying to claim the party chairmanship again?”

Chun added that he was the one to revive the party, and explained that the upcoming party convention is taking place to refresh the party with new leadership.

Another candidate, Chung also criticized that the party should not be dominated by a political faction, referring to Ahn and members close to Ahn.

“People’s Party had been ruled under the shadow of the established members. The only way for the party to revive itself is to guarantee rights of all party members and reflect their voices,” Chung said in a press meeting, vowing to lead on a transparent reform of the party.

He also pointed to Ahn’s “extreme centrism” and said it is just a vague concept that carries no meaning. Instead, Chung said that working to better the lives of the public is the party‘s top priority.

The top post has been vacant since May, after the then interim leader Park Jie-won resigned following their loss in the presidential election.

On the day Ahn declared his run for the leader position, some 12 lawmakers had issued a statement expressing their disapproval against the former party chairman, citing he should follow his earlier pledge to stay away from politics and reflect on his political career.

Three weeks ago, Ahn had said he would take a step back from politics to reflect on his political career after a fake tip-off scandal broke out.

While the prosecution finalized that the leadership was not involved, some of its rank-and-file members were arrested on charges of fabricating evidence against President Moon Jae-in’s son, who was claimed to have landed at a full-time job at a public agency in late 2006, with help from his father.

The party currently holds 40 seats at the 299-member parliament and sees its support rate hitting the bottom line of 5 percent, ranking last among the five main political parties at the National Assembly according to the latest poll by Gallup on Friday.

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