Under fire, Park’s chief ally quits ruling party

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Under fire, Park’s chief ally quits ruling party

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A key ally of the Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Park Geun-hye yesterday gave up his membership in the ruling party after he was accused of receiving a large bribe from a businessman before April’s general election.

Hong Sa-duk, a former six-term lawmaker who twice headed Park’s presidential primary campaigns, said yesterday he will depart the Saenuri Party.

“I don’t want to burden the presidential candidate before the election,” Hong wrote in a statement. “So I decided to leave the party.”

Hong also said he will cease all of his political activities until his name is cleared and urged the prosecution to conclude its investigation as soon as possible.

The National Election Commission asked the prosecution Monday to launch a probe into an allegation that Hong received a large sum of money from a South Gyeongsang-based businessman before the April 11 legislative elections.

The largest opposition Democratic United Party criticized the Saenuri Party yesterday for severing ties with Hong as soon as the scandal erupted to protect its presidential candidate.

“As soon as the party began talking about kicking him out, Hong voluntarily left,” said DUP spokesman Representative Jung Sung-ho. “This is a de facto expulsion.”

Calling the Saenuri Party a private brigade to protect Park, Jung said the party is paying more attention to shielding her than apologizing to the public.

Hong, 69, is a key associate of Park. A native of Yeongju, North Gyeongsang, he started his career with the JoongAng Ilbo as a reporter in 1968. After leaving journalism in 1975, he won a legislative election in his hometown in 1981.

He joined the Grand National Party, the predecessor of the Saenuri Party, in 2000 and won his fifth term with the party. He served as the chief manager of Park’s first presidential primary campaign in 2007.

After Park’s primary defeat, Hong failed to win a nomination for the 2008 legislative elections, and Hong left the GNP and won a seat by creating the Pro-Park Alliance. He then rejoined the GNP in 2008.

In April’s general election, Hong ran in Jongno District, central Seoul, for his seventh term, but lost to the DUP’s Chung Sye-kyun.

Although Hong quickly quit the ruling party, the scandal is still expected to put a serious damper on Park’s campaign. Park’s ratings continued to drop recently after liberals’ attacks on her conflicted attitude toward the legacy of her father, former autocrat Park Chung Hee, while rival Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party was enjoying a honeymoon with the public after his primary victory Sunday.

In a Realmeter poll, Park’s rating went down to 40.8 percent on Monday from the previous week’s average of 41 percent, while Moon’s rating went up by 2.1 percent to 21.3 percent. Liberal independent Ahn Cheol-soo’s rating also went down by 0.2 percentage points to 24.5 percent.

In a two-way race between Park and Moon, Park scored 47.8 percent on Monday, a drop from 49.1 percent on Friday and 51 percent on Sept. 11.

In contrast, Moon’s rating went up from 40.9 percent on Sept. 11 to 43.9 percent on Monday.

Moon was also enjoying growing popularity in a competition against Ahn to be the sole liberal candidate in the race. In the poll, Moon won 44.9 percent, while Ahn was backed by 34 percent on Monday.

Ahn is scheduled to hold a press conference this afternoon to disclose whether he will run for the presidency, and his ratings are expected to go up after the announcement as they have in recent months whenever he makes a public statement or appearance.

In contrast, concerns grew inside the Park campaign that her ratings would plummet even further unless she revises her statements on her father’s dictatorial rule. Representative Nam Kyung-pil, a reformist and head of the Saenuri Party’s economic democratization team, told Yonhap News Agency Monday that the party needs to hold a meeting to discuss the issue.

“Whether it is a policy or a historical perception, it should represent the party, not the candidate,” Nam said. “The party and the candidate shouldn’t have a gap, so we need to talk about holding a lawmakers’ assembly to discuss Park’s historical perception.”

The liberals yesterday continued to use history and her background to criticize Park.

Representative Park Jie-won, DUP floor leader, said yesterday the Saenuri Party should be concerned more about her historical perception than the liberals’ move to consolidate the candidacies of Moon and Ahn.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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