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(News Focus) Conservatives' integration efforts pick up pace

2017/10/12 11:14

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SEOUL, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- Efforts to unify the fractured conservative bloc are gathering steam as senior right-wingers push to form a panel for their integration under the shared goals of reining in increasingly assertive liberal rivals and strengthening their parliamentary foothold.

Though swift, the move towards a merger between the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and its splinter Bareun Party has proceeded cautiously, as skeptics stress the need to focus more on internal reform in order to regain public support.

The integration talk came amid the ruling bloc's politically charged drive to address the alleged misdeeds of the two previous conservative governments and its push to advance the liberal reform agenda, including retooling the tax code.

The need for conservatives to join forces ahead of next year's crucial gubernatorial and mayoral elections -- seen as a referendum on President Moon Jae-in's first year in office -- has further fueled the talk.

"The leftist, populist moves by the Moon administration are at a serious level," Rep. Kim Moo-sung of the Bareun Party told Yonhap News Agency in an interview this week.

This photo, taken Sept. 11, 2017, shows Rep. Kim Moo-sung of the minor opposition Bareun Party, speaking during a parliamentary session at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken Sept. 11, 2017, shows Rep. Kim Moo-sung of the minor opposition Bareun Party, speaking during a parliamentary session at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

"We have to fend them off. ... But we have not been able to properly do so due to the incompetence of the fractured (conservative) opposition," said the political heavyweight, who has been spearheading the efforts to merge with the LKP.

The merger would make the conservative political group the biggest parliamentary force. The LKP and its splinter party have 107 seats and 20 seats, respectively, in the 299-member National Assembly, while the ruling Democratic Party -- currently the largest party -- controls 121 seats.

To catalyze integration, senior members of the two conservative parties have agreed to establish a special panel. They hope to make it a platform to not only foster the merger but also promote broader unity among all right-wingers.

The LKP's stepped-up reform efforts have paved the way for integration.

Its reform committee has recommended that the party ask corruption-tainted former President Park Geun-hye and some of her allies to leave it. The step has long been demanded by the Bareun Party as a condition for any tie-up with the LKP.

The Bareun Party splintered off from the LKP late last year due to a factional feud over the massive corruption scandal involving Park. Its pro-integration members have called for the LKP to carry out a thorough "personnel cleanup" to open the possibility of a merger.

LKP leader Hong Joon-pyo has set a specific timeline for the merger with the Bareun Party, saying it should come before the minor party holds a leadership election slated for Nov. 13. He voiced concerns that, after the election, the conservatives' division would "ossify."

  

This photo, taken Oct. 11, 2017, shows Hong Joon-pyo, the leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, speaking during a party meeting at the National Assembly's library in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken Oct. 11, 2017, shows Hong Joon-pyo, the leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, speaking during a party meeting at the National Assembly's library in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The Bareun Party's leadership poll was arranged after its former leader Lee Hye-hoon bowed out over a graft scandal last month. The scandal tarnished the party's image as a champion of "warm, transparent" conservatism.

Amid Hong's public push for the merger, speculation has grown that some Bareun Party members may defect to join the LKP. Any defection would lead the minor party to lose its status as a potential parliamentary negotiating bloc with at least 20 legislators.

Yoo Seong-min, the former presidential candidate of the Bareun Party, expressed displeasure at the merger talk, stressing that there is "no cause" yet for an alliance with the LKP, and that the talk would hamper the party's leadership election. Yoo and those against the merger have demanded the LKP remove all traces of the disgraced former president.

"I cannot accept acts that interfere with our party's leadership election," Yoo told reporters. "I want to tell (Hong) to just care about his party's (low) support ratings."

  

This photo, taken Oct. 10, 2017, shows Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the minor opposition Bareun Party speaking during a forum at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo, taken Oct. 10, 2017, shows Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the minor opposition Bareun Party speaking during a forum at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The integration move has gained added momentum as the president and his party have pushed for a series of investigations into the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations, which ran the country for nine years from 2008, in the name of "eliminating accumulated ills."

   Conservatives have called the probes "political retribution" and taken countermeasures to burrow into corruption allegations involving former Presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung, two late liberal icons.

The escalating liberal-conservative rivalry has spelled trouble for the ruling bloc, which is struggling to enlist the opposition parties' support in achieving its legislative goals and implementing the president's reform agenda.

sshluck@yna.co.kr

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