Liberals clinch electoral alliance

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Liberals clinch electoral alliance

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Han Myeong-sook, right, chairwoman of the main opposition Democratic United Party, and Lee Jung-hee, left, chairwoman of the minor Unified Progressive Party, shake hands after signing the agreement for an election alliance on Saturday in the National Assembly. [YONHAP]

Two opposition liberal parties formed an alliance for the upcoming April legislative election and scheduled primaries in 76 electoral districts in a joint effort to defeat the ruling party in such strongholds as Busan.

In the midst of internal feuds over the nomination process and a declining approval rating, Democratic United Party chairwoman Han Myeong-sook finished 20 days of negotiations with Lee Jung-hee, her counterpart at the smaller Unified Progressive Party, Saturday at around 3 a.m.

At a press conference later Saturday, Han and Lee both signed the alliance agreement in front of reporters.

“For the first time in Korean history, we achieved a nationwide, expansive alliance of opposition parties in a general election,” Han said at the press conference. “We made a big decision, taking a great cause - not our interests or stakes - into consideration.”

Lee told reporters, “We will put our efforts on cooperation for the opposition parties’ victory in the legislative elections across the country.”

According to the agreement, the main opposition DUP yielded 16 constituencies to UPP candidates.

However, in another 76 constituencies, the parties will hold primaries to select a single opposition candidate, including 44 in Seoul and Gyeonggi. The two-day-long primaries will start on March 17 and winners will be selected through opinion polls.

The opinion polls will be conducted by phone surveys of 1,000 respondents in each constituency. Respondents who say they support the ruling Saenuri Party will be excluded from the surveys. The costs of the surveys will be shared by the candidates in each constituency.

Both parties also agreed to a platform of reform on the management of conglomerates, the narrowing of the wealth gap and social polarization, the increase in taxes on the richest households and the banning of tax exemptions for conglomerates.

The two parties also said they would stop the implementation of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and suspend the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island.

The alliance negotiations were protracted, as the two parties have different opinions on the FTA with the U.S. While the DUP wanted to renegotiate the agreement with the United States, the UPP demanded it be scrapped. The DUP gave in during the final negotiation on Saturday.

The two parties also disagreed on which districts would require primaries. The UPP wanted one in Dobong District A, northern Seoul, but the DUP refused because they already selected a strong candidate - the wife of liberal politician Kim Geun-tae, who recently passed away. In the end, the DUP accepted a primary in that constituency.

Both opposition parties expect the alliance to help them win races in the ruling party’s strongholds of Busan and North and South Gyeongsang provinces.

“The alliance of opposition parties has been successful,” Moon Sung-keun, a Supreme Council member of the DUP, said in Busan Saturday.

“The opposition parties should rally together to win the general election. If we win in Busan, we could win the presidential election in Busan as well,” Moon said.

Political analysts said that given the victory of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in last year’s by-election as a single liberal candidate, the alliance between the main opposition party and the minor splinter raised the possibility of them winning in the April election.

However, speculation is rising that both parties will face trouble from veteran members who are being denied nominations. Han Gwang-ok, a senior DUP member, said yesterday he and other loyalists of the late president Kim Dae-jung will leave the party and create a new one to run next month.

The New Progressive Party, another minor opposition party with about 30 candidates selected for the legislative election, says the alliance is only a half-alliance excluding other minor parties.

“We can’t accept an agreement called an ‘alliance of opposition parties,’ because it’s not a perfect alliance,” a statement issued by the NPP read. “The two parties are even putting pressure on us demanding not to run in races in order to defeat the ruling party in one-on-one battles.”

The NPP also said it will accuse the UPP’s Lee of spreading a false rumor that the NPP had no interest in the alliance on a radio interview.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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