DP’s pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction comes back with a vengeance

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DP’s pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction comes back with a vengeance

Hong Ik-pyo, acting as spokesman of the liberal Democratic Party, made headlines in a big way recently by referring to President Park Geun-hye as “the offspring of a gwitae.”

Polite newspapers translated that as “the offspring of a person who should not have been born,” which referred, of course, to the president’s father Park Chung Hee, the strongman president from the 1960s and 1970s whom the Democrats despise.

In fact, gwitae means an aborted fetus.

Hong was forced to quit as the party’s spokesman and the row over his vulgarity quickly faded away. But his moment in the spotlight showed a genuine political phenomenon: The re-emergence of the so-called “Roh royalists,” politicians who rode high and mighty during the days of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

The Roh loyalists appeared to fade out after the largest opposition party’s defeat in last year’s presidential election. They were in ascendance during the campaign, supporting candidate Moon Jae-in, who was a best friend of Roh’s and served as his former chief of staff.

When Moon was defeated more easily than expected, the Roh faction took blazing heat from other factions in the party, who said they had to take full responsibility for the defeat. In particular, it was expected that they would lose control of the inner circle of the largest opposition party.

But the Roh loyalists have been hard to keep down. Recently they have re-emerged as a force to be reckoned with as they grabbed onto two hot issues - the nation’s spy agency’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential race and the declassification of the transcript of the meeting between Roh and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at a 2007 inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang. By taking a hard-line stance on those issues, they are steering the party again.

After Hong Ik-pyo got the ball rolling by calling Park Chung Hee a gwitae, he passed the baton to Lee Hae-chan, another Roh loyalist and a former student activist under Park Chung Hee’s military rule. Lee also criticized the president’s father in a recent speech and demanded the president sever her relationship with the National Intelligence Service, which was founded by her father as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.

If she didn’t, Lee said, she would face forces that would not recognize her election in December.

DP Chairman Kim Han-gill - known as a moderate, non-Roh faction member of the party - spoke up to deny that the party is questioning the legitimacy of the president’s election victory. But the pro-Roh faction had made their point.

Supporters of the president, who are also dubbed “Park loyalists,” went wild over the attacks by the DP hard-liners.

Lee Jung-hyun, the senior presidential secretary for public affairs whose nickname is “mouthpiece of the president,” responded furiously by saying, “It is a challenge to the entire public to disavow the legitimacy of the president.” Lee said the DP members didn’t want to accept their defeat in the race.

Hwang Woo-yea, chairman of the Saenuri Party, and Choi Kyung-hwan, who has ties with the president that go back years, also tried to defend Park from the DP’s attacks.

In fact, the pro-Park and pro-Roh forces have clashed for almost a decade, and some political analysts say they have a “confrontational symbiosis.”

Their longtime feud began after a general election in April 2004. The Open Uri Party created by then-president Roh Moo-hyun won 152 seats in the National Assembly, becoming the largest party in the legislature.

At the time, Park Geun-hye was the chairwoman of the Grand National Party, the predecessor of the Saenuri Party, who managed to unify the party members frustrated by its win of only 121 seats. At that point, the pro-Park and the pro-Roh circles consolidated their forces and their attempts to control the two parties.

2007 was a nightmare for both the pro-Roh and pro-Park. In an August presidential primary for the December presidential election, Park lost to then-Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak.

The pro-Roh faction leading the liberals were defeated by Lee in the presidential election by a narrow margin of only 5 million votes.

Since then, both factions struggled to gain control over their respective parties.

In 2009, the factions came together in the battle over relocating the central government to Sejong City. Roh Moo-hyun had come up with the plan, so his loyalists supported it. Park Geun-hye had lent her support publicly. But conservative Lee Myung-bak tried changing the plan by revising the law. The pro-Roh and pro-Park factions both fought Lee and ended up winning. The revision was abandoned and most central government offices were sent to Sejong City.

Starting from that moment, analysts could ignore Lee’s supporters and see what the Park and the Roh loyalist were up to.

The Roh and Park groups faced off next in the general and presidential election races in 2012. Han Myung-sook, the first female prime minister, was made party leader, illustrating the comeback of Roh’s people. Park was elected an interim leader of the sinking ruling party during the lame duck period of the Lee administration and helped lead the party to an unexpected victory in the 2012 general election.

Their final match was the 2012 presidential race, Park Geun-hye versus Moon Jae-in. The DP said a Park administration would be no different from Lee Myung-bak’s. Park’s campaign asserted that the Roh group could not handle severe national crises.

When Moon lost, the faction’s demise seemed almost certain. Until their comeback in the past few weeks.

BY SHIN YONG-HO, CHAE BYUNG-GUN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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