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Minor Party Gains Power After Another Defection

Jan 10,2001
A ruling party heavyweight, Rep. Chang Che-sik, defected to the United Liberal Democrats on Wednesday, becoming the fourth ruling party lawmaker to do so since Dec. 30.

His defection allowed the splinter party to meet the required minimum of 20 seats to become a parliamentary negotiating bloc with many additional perquisites. The United Liberal Democrats completed registration as a bona-fide negotiating power later Wednesday.

The defection redivides the 273-seat unicameral parliament into the 133 seats of the main opposition Grand National Party, the 115 seats of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party and the 20 seats of the United Liberal Democrats.

The ruling party and the United Liberal Democrats formally joined in a strategic coalition on Monday, with President Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil, the minor party's honorary president, agreeing to meet once a month to coordinate policy.

Political insiders said that the two Kims decided on the fourth defection in Monday's meeting. The defection had been forecast after the United Liberal Democrats' vice president, Rep. Kang Chang-hee, was ousted because he fought the first round of defections by three lawmakers. That gave the minor party its needed 20 seats until Rep. Kang's ouster dropped it to 19.

Refusing to accept the three lawmakers, he jokingly called on party leadership to invite another ruling party lawmaker.

"Today our party has been resurrected," said Rep. Kim Chong-hoh, acting president of the United Liberal Democrats.

The ruling party's secretary-general, Park Sang-kyu, said, "The defection was necessary so that the three earlier defections would not be rendered meaningless. It is the most effective way to stabilize the political arena."

The Grand National Party blasted the latest defection, saying that it "shows a base desire to hold onto power through black-marketing of legislative lawmakers," as Rep. Ha Soon-bong, the opposition party's vice president, put it.

Mr. Chang, a three-term lawmaker who headed the powerful Special Committee on Budget and Accounts, was not on the scene to explain his defection. He left for Japan, accompanying Kim Jong-pil.

Political observers speculated that Mr. Chang's flight is only the start of President Kim Dae-jung' offensive to build a strong ruling camp as well as seize political leadership as he goes into the second half of his five-year tenure.

The decision was made a day before the president will address the nation on economic and political reforms.

Aides said that the presidential camp believes that stable politics, led by a strong ruling coalition, is crucial to seeing through economic reforms and boosting the stock market.

by Kim Ji-soo




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