[OUTLOOK]Watch, listen for political hintsThe political merger of the Millennium Democratic Party, United Liberal Democrats and the Democratic People's Party, which was scheduled to take place this month, has been put on the back burner, as Rhee In-je, adviser of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, strongly opposes the tie-up. However, Mr. Rhee was the first to bring up the issue last year, insisting that the ruling party should merge with the United Liberal Democrats. At the time, Kim Jong-pil, head of he United Liberal Democrats, called for a parliamentary cabinet system. Mr. Rhee saw the merger as a conspiracy as he started to become aware that a candidate from the Gyeongsang provinces would be selected as the presidential candidate if the two camps merged. Mr. Rhee's hometown is in South Chungcheong province.
"We suspect that there may be ulterior motives," said Park Bum-jin, a former legislator of the ruling party who is close to Mr. Rhee.
Chyung Dai-chul, a lawmaker of the ruling party, mentioned during an interview with a local daily that political reform would take place soon. I met recently with Mr. Chyung.
"I also heard about the reform," said Mr. Chyung, pointing out that he heard it from Chung Kyun-hwan of the Millennium Democratic Party and former culture minister and also a member of the ruling camp, Kim Han-gil.
"However, Mr. Chung and Mr. Kim are not people who take actions based on their own opinion," Mr. Chyung said, hinting that there may be someone behind the scenes giving orders.
"So what did they say?" I asked him.
"[Mr. Chung and Mr. Kim] mentioned that Mr. Rhee could not win the presidential election on his own." Mr. Chyung mentioned that it seemed that a serious discussion has taken place with Kim Yoon-whan, head of the Democratic People's Party in regards to the reform.
I went over to visit Kim Yoon-whan who had an earlier visitor, Kim Jong-pil's nephew Park Joon-hong. Inadvertently I overheard their conversation while waiting in the next room.
"Kim Jong-pil wishes to organize a new political party after breaking the present party and regrouping it later on," said Mr. Park. "Rather than having the two parties, the United Liberal Democrats and Democratic People's Party, merge."
Kim Yoon-whan, who seemed to be pressuring Mr. Park to unite the two parties, replied, "Shouldn't we first merge with one another?"
There were movements to join the two parties at the end of last year. At the time Kim Jong-pil tried to place Lee Soo-sung of the Democratic People's Party, a former prime minister, at the head of his party, the United Liberal Democrats. Lee Soo-sung on his part requested that the two parties should merge.
Kim Yoon-whan refused this idea because he wanted to organize a new political party. Kim Jong-pil and Kim Yoon-whan switched their positions on a party merger completely in the past month.
I felt curious as to why Mr. Kim changed his mind and was hurrying to form a merger.
"Recently Suh Sang-mok, former legislator of the Grand National Party, came to see me," said Kim Yoon-hwan. According to him, Mr. Suh proposed reconciliation with Lee Hoi-chang, the head of the Grand National Party.
"So I told him that Lee Hoi-chang should apologize first." I was surprised that Kim Yoon-whan did not refuse the proposal.
"But it would become serious if he does apologize. The issue on the merging of the three parties should come to a conclusion before Lee Hoi-chang makes an apology," said Kim Yoon-whan.
I wasn't sure if he was anticipating or being anxious. However, Kim Yoon-whan holds another card, which is the reconciliation proposal from the Grand National Party, which holds the most seats in the National Assembly. He will use it to press the ruling party.
"If nothing really works, guess I'll just support the Grand National Party," he said half jokingly. But it didn't sound ordinary. Kim Yoon-whan said the pivotal point was what kind of moves the Donggyo-dong faction, a group of politicians devoted to President Kim Dae-jung, would take.
The Millennium Democratic Party representative Han Hwa-kap is also making a move against Mr. Rhee as he is meeting Lee Soo-sung's people. It seems Mr. Han is agreeing to the merging of parties, which Mr. Rhee is now strongly opposing.
Mr. Rhee is aware of the moves against him and that is the main reason why he opposes joining the parties. "He will not just stand behind and let the movement against him take over," said one of those close to Mr. Rhee.
The writer is a staff writer on political affairs of the Joongang Ilbo.
by Lee Youn-hong