Two minor opposition parties, the People's Party and the Bareun Party, officially merged into a new party Tuesday in a marriage of political groups with opposite support bases amid questions about how successful the experiment will be in South Korean politics, where regional loyalties remain strong.
The two parties held a joint meeting at the National Assembly to approve the merger and the creation of the new Bareun Future Party. They plan to hold a national convention to formally launch the new party later in the day.
The new party, with 31 lawmakers, will be the third largest bloc in the 294-member parliament.
Yoo Seong-min (L), co-leader of the Bareun Future Party and Ahn Cheol-soo, former leader of the People`s Party each press a button signaling the launch of the new centrist party on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The merger is seen as a bold political experiment because the two parties have opposite support bases. The center-left People's Party is considered to be largely based on support from the southwestern province of Jeolla, while the center-right Bareun Party is seen as being based on support from the rival province of Gyeongsang.
How to reconcile differences on ideological issues, such as North Korea, is also a challenge.
But party leaders said the new party could be an attractive alternative for people, especially young voters, who have become weary of the old politics dominated by two major parties -- the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition Liberal Korea Party -- and regionalism.
Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the People's Party, and Yoo Seong-min, the leader of the Bareun Party, have strongly pushed for integration of the two parties as they seek to create a powerful centrist party ahead of June's gubernatorial and mayoral elections.
Some party members, however, vehemently opposed the merger drive, citing the parties' different ideological roots and big gaps in policy stances. Fifteen lawmakers quit the People's Party in protest at the proposed merger and created a new party of their own, the Party for Democracy and Peace.
On Tuesday, Yoo and Rep. Park Joo-sun of the People's Party were named co-leaders of the new party as Ahn stepped down, according to his pledge. Speculation has it that Ahn will run for Seoul mayor in June's local elections.
Rep. Kim Dong-cheol of the People's Party was named floor leader of the new party and Rep. Ji Sang-wuk of the Bareun Party was named the chief policymaker.
"After a dark tunnel, a bright light is in sight," Ahn said. "Many people said (the merger) was impossible, but we made it. It was the power of party members and the people that made this possible."
Yoo said he will step down as a co-leader as soon as the local elections are over.
"I will do my best for the party's success and victory in local elections," he said.
The new party also put together its platform.
Without defining it as liberal, centrist or conservative, the new party said only that it will try to be a "rational" force that transcends regions, social strata and generations.
In its charter, the new party also said it strives for liberal democracy, a fair market economy, strong national security and peaceful unification. The charter also calls for overcoming regionalism and making the country more just and warm-hearted. (Yonhap)