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Sohn is chairman of liberal party

Election marks shift to the right

Jan 11,2008
Sohn Hak-kyu, the former Gyeonggi governor, accepts the chairmanship of the liberal United New Democratic Party yesterday. By Kang Jung-hyun
The rapid political shift to the right in Korea continued yesterday with the elevation of former Grand National Party lawmaker Sohn Hak-kyu to chairman of the nation’s largest liberal bloc, the United New Democratic Party.
Anger over the move prompted party stalwart Lee Hae-chan to bolt from the liberal group, while others boycotted the vote.
With Lee Hoi-chang, the far-right former GNP chairman, planning to create his own party and Lee Myung-bak taking the presidency for the GNP, the political landscape is suddenly dominated by politicians who are essentially conservative.
Sohn was picked as chairman of the UNDP through a party vote that smacked of desperation after the huge UNDP loss in the presidential election, completing a sweeping out of liberal leaders who dominated politics for 10 years.
UNDP lawmaker and former prime minister Lee Hae-chan, a rival of Sohn’s in last year’s UNDP presidential primary, said after the decision that he was quitting the party.
“I am not leaving just because Sohn became the new chairman,” Lee said in a statement yesterday. “I am leaving because the party [GNP] that Sohn was in for so long goes against my political values.
“I don’t believe the UNDP will be able to keep the identity it and its predecessors, the Uri and the Democratic parties, have been pursuing for 20 years when Sohn starts leading our party,” he said.
Lee added that he felt shame because the cause of “progressive democracy” had lost so much support and sown confusion.
Sohn received the votes of 164 of the 514 members of the UNDP central committee. But 208 people, including many allies of President Roh Moo-hyun, did not attend what was called a “papal-style conclave” to select a leader.
The idea was to pick a chairman through open nominations. Sohn, Woo Won-shik and Kim Ho-jin were all named as candidates. But Woo only received 55 votes and Kim got just 46, leaving Sohn the winner.
“We have to remember that the people want us to look at ourselves and be ready to make a change,” Sohn said in a victory speech.
“Korean politics is no longer decided according to regional background but according to what a politician believes in,” said Kim Ki-jung, a political scientist from Yonsei University. He noted Sohn’s support among young lawmakers who pursue a moderate liberal line.
Kim Il-young, a political scientist from Sungkyunwan University, said he expects “a massive walkout” by Chungcheong-based UNDP lawmakers angered by the decision.


By Lee Min-a Staff Reporter/ Kwon Ho JoongAng Ilbo [mina@joongang.co.kr]


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