By Shim Sun-ah
SEOUL, Aug. 3 (Yonhap) -- The main opposition Democratic Party (DP)'s internal discord entered a new phase after all of its leaders resigned Monday to take collective responsibility for last week's election defeat.
After hours of heated debate on Monday, all of the leaders, including party chairman Chung Sye-kyun, decided to step down. The move is expected to calm the bitter infighting that has plagued the party since last week's election loss and start a new tense rivalry among candidates to replace them.
The DP has been embroiled in a fierce feud after it suffered a stunning defeat in the July 28 parliamentary by-elections, in which it lost five of the eight seats to the conservative rival Grand National Party (GNP).
The by-election results boosted President Lee Myung-bak's administration, which begins the second of its five-year term later this month.
The defeat was bitter for the DP as it widely anticipated a repeat of the victory in the June 2 local elections in which it scooped up most of the key mayoral and gubernatorial seats.
A fringe faction in the DP immediately demanded that the entire leadership, including Chung Sye-kyun, step down, claiming that their "improper" choice of candidates in the by-elections caused the defeat.
Chung and his "mainstream" faction yielded to the demands, a move reflecting their fear that the party may collapse if the current discord continues. An "emergency committee," chaired by floor leader Park Jie-won, would manage the party until new leaders are elected at a party convention sometime next month.
"The party must be stabilized. It is improper to put the party under the current situation for whatever reason," Noh Young-min, spokesman for the party, told reporters about the reason for the leadership's decision.
But another round of battle is expected as members vie to become the party's next leaders, pitting younger lawmakers against the older group. Chung has also indicated he will run for chairman again.
Viable candidates such as former Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, former party chief Sohn Hak-kyu and incumbent lawmakers Park Joo-sun and Chun Jung-bae are likely to accelerate their own preparations for the race.
Sohn, a senior adviser to the party, is considering returning to the party this week while outgoing chairman Chung Sye-kyun and former Unification Minister Chung Dong-young are expected to declare candidacy when election rules are fixed.
Park Jie-won vowed efforts to ensure fair management of the national convention.
"DP will become a party beloved and respected by the people and its members when the national convention is conducted in fair play by fair rules," he said in a radio interview Tuesday.
"We have been judged by the people," he said of last week's election outcome. "We have to look back at ourselves intensely and make sure we don't repeat the same mistake."
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