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Former mayor of Seoul rejoins the LKP

Oh Se-hoon’s return indicates the party is consolidating the right

Nov 30,2018
Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon announces that he has returned to the Liberty Korea Party at a welcome ceremony held in the National Assembly on Thursday. [YONHAP]
Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon returned to the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) on Thursday.

Oh’s return signals the beginning of a reconciliation between Korea’s conservatives, who have been divided since former President Park Geun-hye was impeached almost two years ago.

“I have reentered the [LKP] to contribute to building a single conservative front,” Oh said at a press conference following a welcome ceremony at the National Assembly. “The ruling party is acting arrogantly in front of the people because the opposition has failed to unite and has collapsed in disunity.”

The LKP welcomed Oh’s return as a symbol that they are the right’s chief party after two years of incessant schisms and infighting.

Oh was among the dozens of key politicians in the Saenuri Party - the governing conservative party during the Lee Myung-bak and Park presidencies - who renounced their membership in the party in December 2016 after Park was impeached in the National Assembly for her role in a massive corruption scandal.

The rebel group of 29 lawmakers and dozens of prominent political figures like Oh officially founded the Bareun Party in January last year. They pledged to build a new conservative party free from associations with Park’s corruption.

But the grand political experiment did not last: many lawmakers of the Bareun Party have straggled back into the arms of LKP, the direct successor of the Saenuri Party.

Many of them acknowledged after their return that the fledgling conservative party was just too unpopular to rally the right to prevent liberals’ rise to power.

The Bareun Party later merged with the centrist People’s Party to form today’s Bareunmirae Party.

Thursday’s defection by Oh stands as yet another reminder that the LKP, which never truly renounced its ties to Park, has effectively won the battle for Korean conservatism.

Oh, who was first elected as Seoul’s mayor in July 2006, is a contentious figure in Korean politics, largely due to his dramatic resignation as mayor seven years ago.

Though widely regarded as a presidential hopeful following his re-election in 2010, Oh put everything on the line in August 2011 when he vowed to quit if voters did not take his side in a city-wide referendum on providing free school lunches to all children in Seoul.

Two-thirds of Seoul voters failed to turn out for the vote, invalidating the referendum. Oh followed through with his promise and quit his job.

Since then, Oh has kept a relatively low profile, though his name occasionally surfaces as a potential leader of the conservatives.

He made a foray back into politics in the legislative elections of April 2016. Oh was given the Saenuri Party’s nomination to run in one of the most symbolic districts in that election - Jongno A - against the Democratic Party’s five-term lawmaker Chung Sye-kyun.

Though polls had Oh leading by a solid plurality a month before the elections, he suffered a crushing defeat by Chung, who went on to serve as speaker of the National Assembly.

Oh said on Thursday that he joined the Bareun Party because of his desire to support former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s candidacy for the 2017 presidential elections. When Ban’s potential candidacy fizzled out, Oh exited the Bareun Party to remain as an independent.

Now that Oh is back in the LKP, analysts say he may seek the party’s leadership in the February election or run for a National Assembly seat in next April’s legislative elections.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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