Go Search Go Contents Go to bottom site map

(News Focus) Uncertainty hangs over conservative alliance prospects

2017/04/05 11:00

SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- Two right-wing presidential nominees are mired in an increasingly acrimonious spat, casting clouds over their possible tie-up to challenge liberal front-runner Moon Jae-in in the upcoming presidential election, observers said Wednesday.

Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and Yoo Seong-min of its splinter Bareun Party face growing calls to merge their campaigns in the lead up to the May 9 election, seen heavily weighted in favor of the liberal camp following a corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye.

But a war of words has been escalating between them as they are competing for split conservative votes and possibly an upper hand in future negotiations over the alliance.

Hong, a tough-talking governor of South Gyeongsang Province, and Yoo, a moderate former ruling party floor leader, have languished in dismal single digits in various recent opinion polls, while Moon, former chief of the largest Democratic Party, has remained on top for three months with his support ratings hovering over 30 percent.

This image shows two conservative presidential contenders -- Yoo Seong-min (L) of the Bareun Party and Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party. (Yonhap) This image shows two conservative presidential contenders -- Yoo Seong-min (L) of the Bareun Party and Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party. (Yonhap)

Vowing to forge a "grand conservative coalition," Hong has demanded the splinter party, which broke away from the LKP following Park's impeachment in December, "return home unconditionally." He hopes to achieve the merger by the April 16 deadline for the presidential candidate registration with the election watchdog.

But Yoo swept aside his appeal, accusing Hong of seeking to absorb his party into the larger party.

Tensions have further escalated with Hong attacking Yoo and his party with a series of derogatory remarks.

"It is childish for a politician to be bound by old grudges ... now that the big picture of the presidential election has emerged," Hong told reporters Tuesday.

This photo, taken on April 4, 2017, shows Hong Joon-pyo, the presidential candidate of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, speaking during a meeting with reporters after his visit to the hometown of former President Park Chung-hee in Gumi, some 261 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on April 4, 2017, shows Hong Joon-pyo, the presidential candidate of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, speaking during a meeting with reporters after his visit to the hometown of former President Park Chung-hee in Gumi, some 261 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Yoo hit back, highlighting Hong's bribery charges have made him unfit for the country's top elected office. He has also accused Hong of seeking to utilize the presidential post to dodge criminal conviction.

Hong is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on the charges of taking 100 million won (US$89,015) in kickbacks from a businessman ahead of his party's leadership election in 2011. In February, an appeals court exonerated him.

"Candidate Hong is not a figure qualified for president. If I discuss the merging of candidacies with such a person, I also will end up becoming unfit for the presidency," Yoo said during a press conference Tuesday.

"The Liberty Korea Party has not changed at all and discussing the merger with such a party is tantamount to a reversal of the cause that gave rise to the Bareun Party," he added.

This photo, taken on April 4, 2017, shows Yoo Seong-min, the presidential candidate of the Bareun Party, speaking during a press conference at the party headquarters in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken on April 4, 2017, shows Yoo Seong-min, the presidential candidate of the Bareun Party, speaking during a press conference at the party headquarters in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The bickering over the "conservative pedigree" further deepened their acrimony.

Hong says that his party represents the "genuine, legitimate" conservative pedigree, while casting the Bareun Party as a "son born on the wrong side of the blanket." Yoo countered that his party seeks to build a "new" conservatism as a departure from the old one tainted by Park's scandal.

Despite both showing no signs of backing down, calls for their coalition have persisted as the opinion polls suggested that the election race could boil down to a duel between the two liberal contenders -- Moon and Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-left People's Party.

In the poll released Monday by local pollster Realmeter, runner-up Ahn was seen posing a growing challenge to Moon with 18.7 percent, a gain of 6.1 percentage points from a week earlier. Moon posted 34.9 percent, up 0.5 percentage point from the previous week.

Another reason for the conservative coalition is associated with money.

The support ratings of Hong and Yoo have hovered below 10 percent, meaning they might not be able to recoup any of their election expenditures -- which may be worth tens of billions of won -- if they run separately in the election.

The state election watchdog is to reimburse all of the election costs for those who garner 15 percent or more of the valid votes cast on election day and only half the costs for those who collect 10 to less than 15 percent of the votes. Those who fail to secure 10 percent get no money back.

sshluck@yna.co.kr

(END)

angloinfo.com