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Blame game intensifies to reveal under-the-table negotiations

Opposition parties put blame on each other for campaign merger failure, ruling party reaches out to Ahn

Presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party attends a campaign committee meeting at the National Assembly on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party attends a campaign committee meeting at the National Assembly on Thursday. (Yonhap)
The blame game is intensifying between the main opposition People Power Party and minor People’s Party over the failure to reach an agreement to merge their respective campaigns for the upcoming presidential election, with the respective chiefs revealing their under-the-table negotiations.

Amid a widening gap between the two opposition parties, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea has reached out with plans to reform the government system and lay the foundations for a multiparty system, in an apparent bid to reach out to the People’s Party.

On Wednesday, Rep. Lee Tae-kyu, the top chief of the campaign team for Ahn Cheol-soo, presidential candidate of the People’s Party, disclosed details of his secret meeting with People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok earlier in the month.

“Lee Jun-seok offered a merger of the parties under the premise that Ahn Cheol-soo drop out. If that happens, Lee promised to secure spots in his party (for Ahn and other members of the People’s Party),” Lee Tae-kyu told reporters.

“Lee Jun-seok also said he could prepare a festive event on Feb. 11 for Yoon Suk-yeol and Ahn Cheol-soo to declare their candidacy unification, as they get off the Passion Train in Yeosu (in South Jeolla Province),” Lee Tae-kyu added. The Passion Train refers to the regional tour activity Lee Jun-seok planned for Yoon Suk-yeol’s campaign.

In his revelation, Lee Tae-kyu also explained Lee Jun-seok’s desire to lead the campaign merger negotiations and leave Yoon Suk-yeol out of the dialogue.

Following Lee Tae-kyu’s accusation, Lee Jun-seok also held an emergency press conference to admit that he had asked for a full merger of the parties, but denied the accusation that he tried to sideline his party’s presidential candidate.

“I did meet with Lee Tae-kyu to discuss the possible merger of our parties, ” Lee Jun-seok said, adding that his offers to Lee Tae-kyu were intended “to show respect and care” for Ahn Cheol-soo after he gives up on his presidential candidacy.

Lee Jun-seok said he had not told Yoon about his meeting with Lee Tae-kyu, but also underscored that he did not discuss candidacy unification, as that is outside his authority -- acknowledging his secret negotiations with the People’s Party could harm his relationship with Yoon.

The two presidential candidates -- Yoon of the main opposition People Power Party and Ahn of the minor opposition People’s Party -- had shown interest in merging their candidacies in the presidential election to win against Lee Jae-myung, the contender from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

As the relationship between the two opposition parties continues to sour, the ruling party’s Lee Jae-myung proposed to create a government “integrating all political parties for cooperation,” Thursday.

“We should pursue cooperation with political parties to divide roles, and compete fairly, as the ultimate goal is the development of the nation and improving people’s livelihoods,” Lee said in a radio interview.

“The current two-party system monopolizing the parliament only creates a competition of hostility.”

On the same day, the ruling party’s leader Rep. Song Young-gil also announced plans to introduce a runoff system in elections and amend the Constitution to change the current government appointment system to allow the National Assembly choose its prime minister, a position currently chosen by the president in Korea.

The ruling party’s plans are apparently aimed at Ahn Cheol-soo’s interests, as Ahn comes from a minor party that currently holds only three seats in the 300-seat National Assembly.

By Jo He-rim (
Korea Herald Youtube