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(LEAD) Ahn moves to tamp down talk of possible alliance with ruling party

2017/10/13 15:54

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(ATT: ADDS more info in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- The leader of the minor opposition People's Party brushed aside emerging talk of a possible alliance with the ruling party Friday amid a brewing internal rift over his party's future course of action.

Ahn Cheol-soo, the center-left party's chief, called on the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to stop "playing pranks" on his party members to check whether they are willing to join forces with it in the opposition-led National Assembly.

His remarks came amid reports that ruling party grandees recently sounded out his party's floor leader on the possibility of forging some form of coalition between the two parties, as right-wing politicians have pushed to unify the fractured conservative bloc.

The DP denied that it had made any official offer for a tie-up with the minor party.

"If there is anything that the government and ruling party have been doing consistently, it would be that they have been playing on words such as 'cooperative politics' or 'political coalition.' ... Stop playing pranks," Ahn said during a meeting with senior party officials.

Ahn Cheol-soo, the leader of the minor opposition People's Party, speaks during a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Oct. 13, 2017. (Yonhap) Ahn Cheol-soo, the leader of the minor opposition People's Party, speaks during a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Oct. 13, 2017. (Yonhap)

His comments were partially intended to help allay worries about an internal fissure over the coalition issue. His party is split, with many concerned that any coalition would mean a loss of its identity as an opposition party and "absorption" into the larger party.

The ruling party has been struggling to court the People's Party, with which it could form the slim parliamentary majority necessary to achieve its legislative goals, including retooling the tax code and revamping power organs such as the prosecution.

The DP has 121 seats in the 299-member legislature, while the People's Party has 40 seats.

The DP has recently beefed up efforts to enlist the minor party's support as senior members of the two conservative parties -- the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and its splinter Bareun Party -- push for a merger to foster broader unity among right-wingers and bolster their legislative presence.

Should the merger take place, the conservative group would supplant the ruling party as the largest parliamentary force. The LKP and Bareun Party have 107 seats and 20 seats in the parliament, respectively.

Later in the day, the LKP picked three party lawmakers to form a panel intended to push for a merger with the Bareun Party.

LKP leader Hong Joon-pyo has voiced hopes that the merger will be completed before the Bareun Party's leadership election slated for Nov. 13. He warned that after the vote, the conservatives' division could "ossify."

   The Bareun Party is divided over the merger issue. Some in the party ranks argue that the LKP should first remove all of its members closely affiliated with corruption-tainted former President Park Geun-hye, while others say the LKP's ongoing reform efforts are enough to initiate the integration process.

The minor party splintered off from the LKP late last year amid a factional feud over the corruption scandal involving Park. It was created with a pledge to become a reformist alternative to the LKP.