Sohn again rebuffs DP bid to be its candidate

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Sohn again rebuffs DP bid to be its candidate

Despite repeated pleas by the Democratic Party to run under its banner in the Oct. 30 by-election in Gyeonggi, Sohn Hak-kyu, a former four-term lawmaker, has turned down the request. The opposition Democrats wanted him to face off against Suh Chung-won, one of President Park Geun-hye’s confidants and another high-profile political name.

Kim Han-gill, chairman of the DP, had put a lot of effort into recruiting Sohn for the Hwaseong A District after the president’s Saenuri Party nominated Suh, 70, to stand for election in that constituency despite his conviction on violating election-finance laws. He has served six terms as a lawmaker and is a long-time cheerleader for the president.

Sohn’s rejection of the offer came as a big disappointment for the Democratic Party, which has tried to frame the by-election as a referendum on the president’s performance to date.

A string of controversies that has hit the Park government, including a scandal involving former Prosecutor-General Chae Dong-wook and the scaling-back of a basic pension plan for senior citizens, had also bolstered the DP’s hope that Sohn could win convincingly enough to warn the Blue House to cooperate more with the political opposition.

But Sohn declined, saying it has been less than a year since the DP was defeated in the presidential election, a loss Sohn said he was partly responsible for.

The professor-turned-politician once served as DP chairman and contended for the DP’s presidential nomination in the primaries last year, where he was defeated by Moon Jae-in, who then lost to President Park in the Dec. 19 election.

Some speculated that Sohn’s refusal reflects an intra-party power struggle.

“Even when Chairman Kim visited Sohn [Friday], the party was not sure who to nominate,” said a person close to Sohn. “He may take hits from the DP even before he goes out compete with the Saenuri.”

But the ruling’s party decision to pick Suh as its candidate has raised eyebrows because of Suh’s criminal record, an election-related bribery conviction.

In August 2008, a Seoul court handed Suh an 18-month sentence on a charge of receiving 3 billion won ($2.8 million) from two party members seeking a party nomination.

The opposition party postponed its nominating committee meeting from yesterday to this morning.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, LEE SO-AH [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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