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Ruling party splits as 29 lawmakers leave

A group of 29 lawmakers formally departed from the ruling Saenuri Party on Tuesday, declaring they will create a new party to lead the reform of political conservatives in tatters from a scandal involving President Park Geun-hye. 

They were set to register their own parliamentary negotiation group later in the day and will launch their party tentatively named the New Conservative Party for Reform, on Jan. 24. 

Their departure reduced the governing party to the second largest in parliament with 99 seats, trailing behind the main opposition Democratic Party with 121 lawmakers. The People's Party stands in third with 38 seats. 

"Park loyalists have forgotten the true values of conservatism and as a result lost the people's trust," the group said. They criticized the Park allies for ignoring the people's wishes and defending President Park in the corruption and influence-peddling scandal.

The new party aims to win over conservative voters disenchanted with Saenuri and the Park administration.

The group said it will seek to turn the latest scandal into an opportunity to reform the country and recover the true values of conservatism.

The conservative party has been dogged by a factional feud even before the general election in April. This has since been fueled by the scandal that broke out in late October. The president was impeached by parliament earlier this month after being named an accomplice of her friend's wrongdoing. Park has consistently claimed that she is innocent of the charges leveled against her, and vowed to prove it in court.

The Saenuri dissenter group initially expected 35 lawmakers could leave. Twenty-nine members handed in their resignations to the party, with more expected to join in early January.

The preparatory committee for the new party is headed by Rep. Choung Byoung-gug and Rep. Joo Ho-young, with other key figures, including Rep. Yoo Seong-min and Rep. Kim Moo-sung, who formally served as floor leader and chief of Saenuri, respectively.

Saenuri, meanwhile, focused efforts on preventing further exodus of its lawmakers.

"I am disappointed. But since they are leaving, I hope they will become the party loved by the people," Saenuri's interim-head nominee In Myung-jin said. In, however, told party leaders to persuade the remaining lawmakers to stay.

"The dissenters earlier claimed the number will reach 35. As they did not meet the goal, we can say they failed in the first round," said Rep. Chung Woo-taik, the floor leader of Saenuri. "If there is energy to separate the conservative bloc, we need to focus it on reforming the party."

"I hope the separation did not come out of personal political interests," Chung added. (Yonhap)