DP declares merger in face of old guard’s wrath

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DP declares merger in face of old guard’s wrath

The Democratic Party pushed forward with its plan to merge with other opposition forces and ultimately create a new liberal party within the next few weeks.

But its old guard is still resisting, saying a convention that approved of the idea Sunday was not valid.

The DP held a convention Sunday that, according to its leaders, approved the plan to merge with the Civil Unity Party, mainly created by allies of the late President Roh Moo-hyun. According to the DP, 5,820 of its 10,562 delegates attended the convention and 4,427 cast votes to support the merger. The DP leadership announced Sunday night that the two parties’ merger was formally endorsed.

Opponents of the merger, led by former floor leader Park Jie-won, tried to disrupt the vote with fistfights and other rowdiness. The old guard claims that only 5,067 of the 5,820 delegates who showed up at the convention actually cast ballots, less than the 50 percent necessary to make the vote valid.

The leadership dismissed the argument and ruled that the merger will take place.

Park and other senior politicians from the DP’s stronghold in the Jeolla region boycotted a party meeting, at which its strategy in negotiations with the Civil Unity Party to create a new party were to be discussed, and made clear they would not cooperate with the merger.

In an interview with MBC yesterday morning, Park said he and his supporters will not take the case to court, but said there was a Supreme Court precedent that the quorum for a vote is based on the number of ballots cast.

Park said later that he would ask his supporters not to file a lawsuit challenging the approval of the merger. “I hope everyone agrees on the decision with a broader perspective,” Park wrote in a message posted on his Facebook page. “Let’s unite as one.”

DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu, a strong supporter of the merger, is trying to mend the intra-party rift.

“I will complete the merger with my whole life’s determination,” Sohn said. “I ask the Democrats to become the wheels on a wagon heading to a new society, rather than being obstacles.”

Representatives of the party met with their counterparts in the Civil Unity Party to discuss the mechanics of the merger. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions joined the meeting to discuss various issues involved in starting a new party, such as the party’s name and what kind of constitution it should have.

“Let’s make Saturday our deadline to complete the merger process,” said DP Representative Cho Jeong-sik.

The liberals want the new party’s leadership election at the end of this year or early next. The new leadership will oversee preparations for April’s general election, with the aim of having a united liberal front to challenge the ruling Grand National Party.

If the new party is formed, it will have a membership of liberal politicians from across a wide spectrum. With its many factions, the power structure of the party is expected to be complex and the competition for leadership is expected to be fierce.

The Roh loyalists, who nearly disappeared from the political scene after their 2007 presidential election defeat, have made a successful comeback. While some of them, such as former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook, South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung and former Gangwon Governor Lee Kwang-jae, have remained in the DP, many have left the party.

Moon Jae-in, head of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Du-kwan, former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan and actor-turned-activist Moon Sung-keun will be members of the new liberal party.

The DP’s presidential hopefuls - Chairman Sohn and Supreme Council members Chung Dong-young and Chung Sye-kyun - have also built strong groups of supporters within the new liberal party, while the old guard led by Park Jie-won is to form another group inside the party.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and other civil activists and representatives from the Federation of Korean Trade Unions will create another axis of the new political party.

Observers said civic groups and the labor union, which has 920,000 members, have strong organizational powers that can match those of the political factions.

The race for leadership of the new party has begun, with about 20 politicians eyeing the chairmanship. Three front-runners have already emerged. Former Prime Minister Han is backed by Roh loyalists and senior members of the DP, while former floor leader Park is supported by the DP’s old guard, who were aides to the late President Kim Dae-jung and maintain close ties with the Jeolla region.

Moon Sung-keun, an actor-turned-activist, also has ambitions for the chairmanship based on his popularity among young voters plugged into mobile communication devices and social networking services, which are fast developing as powerful political phenomena.

By Ser Myo-ja, Yang Won-bo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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