Liberal parties merge, pick name and set program

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Liberal parties merge, pick name and set program

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Representative Sohn Hak-kyu concluded his chairmanship of the main opposition Democratic Party yesterday. By Kim Hyung-soo

The largest opposition party is now the Democratic Unity Party.

The merger of the Democratic Party and the Civil Unity Party was put into motion yesterday as the leaders of the constituent parties gathered to decide the name of the party and how to formally describe its stance. The methodology to elect a new leadership was also confirmed.

The choice of the name Democratic Unity Party left many observers puzzled because the choice of name had come down to two other monikers: the United Democratic Party and the Civil Democratic Party.

The first was dismissed because the DP used that name in the past, party officials said. The latter was not allowed by the National Election Commission because a civic group has registered a similar name as the name of a party it plans to create.

The ideological stance of the new party was decided to be moderate-progressive, a leftward move from the DP’s moderate reform-minded character. This reflected the inclusion of the Civil Unity Party and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, both considered more leftist than the DP.

The Civil Unity Party is mainly comprised of loyalists to former President Roh Moo-hyun. The FKTU is the more moderate of the two major umbrella union groups in Korea.

Reflecting a leftward move, the platform of the new party includes taking up the spirit of the massive 2008 protests against imports of U.S. beef.

The new party’s convention to elect its leadership will be held Jan. 15. If more than nine people register to run for top leadership positions, the party will hold a preliminary round on Dec. 26, the party said.

The new leadership will be comprised of 11 Supreme Council members, with six elected. Members of the public will be allowed to vote for those positions for the first time, either through regular ballots or by Internet or cell phone, as in “American Idol” voting.

In an experimental move to get buzz among young voters, one of the remaining spots will be given to the winner of some kind of competition among party members aged 35 or younger.

Until the convention, an interim leadership led by DP lawmaker Won Hye-young, who formally served as DP floor leader, and Lee Yong-sun, leader of the Civil Unity Party, will manage the party.

The FKTU could swing considerable weight in the new part due to its vast membership, which it claims to be as large as 700,000. But some analysts said the number of people it could mobilize for voting in party affairs would probably be around 20,000.

The leadership of the DP also stepped down yesterday, including chairman Sohn Hak-kyu.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday, Sohn said the integration of the liberals was his biggest goal as DP chairman. He said it was a challenge and he expressed satisfaction at the results so far, calling himself an “integration expert.”

The remaining challenge, Sohn said, was to build momentum for a change in national power in next year’s general and presidential election.

He said if the DP successfully integrates the liberal forces, it could win more than 50 percent of the 299 National Assembly seats in the April general election.

He also said that a political bid by Ahn Cheol-soo, the rising star among liberal supporters and the young, is “more than welcome.” Ahn has never run for office and is an independent.


By Yang Won-bo, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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