DP vote on merger turns into melee

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DP vote on merger turns into melee


As a Democratic Party member shouts his opposition to the merger plan during the liberal convention at Jamsil Olympic Stadium in southern Seoul, security personnel at the convention use force to stop him. [YONHAP]

A convention by the Democratic Party, the largest opposition group, to decide whether to merge with other liberal forces descended into violent chaos yesterday, as opponents of the plan waved placards, shouted, slapped people and pulled the plug on the convention’s Internet connection.

After hours of disruption, the party wasn’t sure if enough ballots were cast to make the vote valid as of 8 p.m. yesterday.

Supporters of the merger with the Civil Unity Party, led by leaders of various opposition spectrums, strived to get enough delegates into the hall to constitute a quorum. More than 50 percent of the party’s 10,562 delegates were required to vote.

Opponents wanted to foil the vote by preventing delegates from getting in.

Ultimately, 5,820 delegates entered Jamsil Olympic Stadium, so a quorum was met. But when the votes were counted, there were only 5,067, not more than 50 percent. As of last night, the DP leaders were trying to figure out if the vote was valid.

The merge would realign the opposition camp, previously divided into five to six groups, into two: the merged DP and Civil Unity Party and the Integration Progressive Party, which is a combination of the Democratic Labor Party and People’s Participation Party. The opposition wants greater unity to contest next April’s legislative election and the December 2012 presidential race.

The old guard of the DP led by Park Jie-won is opposed to the merger with the younger liberal group, which is mainly comprised of loyalists of late former President Roh Moo-hyun. Park and his faction are loyalists of late former President Kim Dae-jung.

Before the convention started, around 200 merger opponents assembled outside the stadium with placards reading, “The 60-year-old Democratic Party, we safeguard it,” “Reform of the party first, integration later,” and “The leadership dissolving the Democratic Party should blow itself up.”

One placard read, “Sohn Hak-kyu from the Grand National Party kills the DP.” Sohn, the party’s chairman, was three-term lawmaker with the ruling GNP before joining the DP in 2007.

Outside, organizers employed a group of young, bulky men dressed in identical black suits with slicked-back hair for security.

The organizers barred nondelegates from entering the stadium and ran a rigorous identification process that included fingerprinting, sparking angry reactions from the opponents of the merger. One delegate slapped hard a young female staffer who was fingerprinting him, and that developed into a scuffle involving around 20 people. The brawl lasted 10 minutes before policemen broke up the melee.

The opponents destroyed a plastic cable box that connected the convention to the Internet. That delayed the screening of delegates by one hour.

The organizers also closed all entrances to the stadium except for one, so it took time for delegates to enter. At one point, a handful of nondelegate opponents attempted to enter the convention, starting a 10-minute brawl.

When the votes were finally counted and the number came up short of the 50 percent mark - even though more than 50 percent of delegates were in attendance - organizers contacted the National Election Commission to see if the vote was valid. The commission’s response: It’s your party, you figure it out.

By Park Shin-hong, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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