Main opposition struggles to keep itself together

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Main opposition struggles to keep itself together

Deep-rooted factionalism has been a perennial headache for the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), and it is back with a vengeance as the party tries to salvage its sinking popularity through a major overhaul.

After crushing defeats in the April by-elections, the NPAD decided to create a reform committee and recruited Kim Sang-gon, an icon of reform in liberal education circles, as its head in May. Chairman Moon Jae-in promised Kim full authority to overhaul the second largest party in the National Assembly, and Kim’s reform committee was formally launched on June 12.

The main challenge for the NPAD is mending an internal schism between political allies of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, which includes Moon, and others. Since his elevation to the chairmanship in February, Moon has struggled to unite members with different internal allegiances.

On June 15, Kim declared war on party members’ practice of making insensitive or offensive comments since they have fueled factionalism.

“Anyone making inappropriate remarks will be punished with disadvantages in election nominations and appointments for party leadership positions,” he warned.

Kim cited specific examples of the remarks that he saw as an obstacle to the party’s unity.

“The reform committee members seem to be advance guards of Chairman Moon,” Rep. Cho Kyoung-tae said earlier this month.

Kim used that as an example of an insensitive or offensive remark.

Cho, not a member of the so-called pro-Roh faction, has denounced the reform efforts initiated by Moon.

Another example cited by Kim was a Tweet by Rep. Kim Kyung-hyub, a key member of the Roh faction.

“In a party that upholds the spirits and values of two former Presidents [Kim Dae-jung and Roh], those who are not pro-Roh don’t deserve to be members. They are spies from the ruling Saenuri Party,” he wrote.

Kim also criticized Rep. Park Jie-won for having said, “At least four groups inside the NPAD are preparing to be separated or create a new party.”

“Those comments are against our efforts for reform,” Kim said. “From now on, we are declaring a war between the reformists and anti-reformists.”

He also criticized Moon for failing to control the lawmakers from making stinging comments.

“The party leadership including the chairman cannot be free from responsibility,” he said.

Members of the reform committee said Kim has decided to punish factionalist remarks because they have reached a dangerous point.

“Such words fuel distrust between party members and disgust the public,” a reform committee member said.

The reform committee’s attempt to stop factionalist remarks immediately created backlash. A group of NPAD members asked the party’s ethics tribunal to punish Rep. Kim Kyung-hyub for his comment.

Kim, a former labor activist, entered politics during the 2002 presidential election to support Roh. In the Roh Blue House, he worked as a presidential secretary for social affairs. He became a lawmaker by winning a seat in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, in 2012.

After Moon became chairman, he named Kim as deputy secretary-general, despite protests from NPAD leaders who are not Roh loyalists.

The NPAD’s ethics tribunal appointed its new head, Ahn Byung-ook, on Tuesday and Ahn also said he will not hesitate to punish people to set an example.

“Due to careless words and the behavior of a few people, the party is now facing the danger of breaking up,” Ahn said. “We need to use very severe standards temporarily.”

Depending on the severity of the disciplinary action, Kim could face expulsion from the party or lose his right to apply for an election nomination.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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