Liberty Korea Party’s overhaul plan draws mixed reaction

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Dec 16, 2018 - 15:40
  • Updated : Dec 16, 2018 - 19:24

Controversy persists over the decision by the main opposition party’s interim leadership to reduce the clout of lawmakers who were close to former President Park Geun-hye, as well as that of other conservative powerbrokers.

The Liberty Korea Party’s emergency committee said Saturday that 21 incumbent lawmakers will be ineligible to lead the party’s powerful district committees. The purpose of the measure, the interim leadership said, is to overhaul the conservative party following the ouster of Park last year.

Among those on the list are figureheads in the pro-Park faction, such as four-term lawmaker Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan. But leaders of the anti-Park faction, including six-term lawmaker Rep. Kim Moo-sung, are on it too.

While the lawmakers whose names appear on the list are not prohibited from running in the general election slated for 2020, the emergency committee’s decision has raised concern among moderate members that the measure might undermine their efforts to challenge the Moon Jae-in administration. 

Liberty Korea Party`s interim chief Kim Byung-joon. Yonhap

“I think the scope of the reform plan is too extensive,” said Rep. Na Kyung-won, who was elected floor leader last week. “I expressed strong regret over the decision because it will undermine our efforts to build a united front (against the Moon administration).

“I have also stressed that we should not rule out the possibility for those lawmakers on the list to get a second chance -- if they work really hard on their legislative efforts until the general election.”

The lawmakers on the list are to be stripped of their right to lead any of the party’s district offices -- a position considered to carry significant influence when the party leadership nominates candidates for the general election.

While some lawmakers protested the decision, calling it a political witch hunt, a key member of the pro-Park faction said he will accept the reform plan to save the beleaguered party.

“Even though there is a lot to say about the decision, I’ll keep it to myself,” three-term lawmaker Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “If it is the people’s decision, I’ll accept it.”

However, Rep. Hong Moon-pyo expressed anger over the decision. Hong was among those who defected from the former ruling party -- the Saenuri Party, the forerunner of the Liberty Korea Party -- before Park was removed from office. After briefly joining the center-right Bareunmirae Party, he joined the newly formed Liberty Korea Party before the 2017 presidential election.

The Liberty Korea Party has been in turmoil since Park was ousted last year over a massive power abuse and bribery scandal. Park and her close aides received prison terms after the courts found them guilty of abuse of power and coercion. Park has been sentenced to 33 years in prison.

While the conservative bloc’s popularity has seen a bit of an uptick amid growing dissatisfaction with the Moon administration’s economic policies, the main opposition party’s overhaul efforts appear to have stopped short of voters’ expectations.

“The Liberty Korea Party cannot turn over a new leaf as long as those responsible for the ouster of Park and the defeat to Moon remain in place,” Jun Won-tchack, a former chief of the party’s reform panel, said Wednesday during an interview with local broadcaster CBS.

Jun was tasked with reviewing qualifications for those seeking to run as party district office leaders. He was ousted from his post in November amid a power struggle with Kim Byung-joon, the party’s interim chairman. 

According to a Gallup Korea survey released Friday, Moon’s approval rating fell to its lowest level since he took office last year. Moon’s support came to 45 percent, down 4 percentage points from the previous week.

Support for the Liberty Korea Party, however, reached its highest level since the party’s defeat to Moon in the 2017 presidential election. The conservative party’s approval rating came to 19 percent, up 2 percentage points from the previous week.