Heavyweight Kim to ditch NPAD, join Ahn

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Heavyweight Kim to ditch NPAD, join Ahn

High-profile lawmakers in the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), including a former chairman, Kim Han-gill, are planning exits to join presidential hopeful Ahn Cheol-soo’s nascent party.

Ahn, who co-founded the NPAD last year and abandoned it on Dec. 13, unveiled a plan on Monday to create a new political party by early February with an ambition to win at least 100 seats in the April general election - and to personally win the presidency in 2017. Since his departure, four lawmakers, disgruntled with the way current NPAD Chairman Moon Jae-in is running the party, left the NPAD to join him.

More are expected to follow. Rep. Kim, who co-chaired the NPAD with Ahn last year, has decided to follow Ahn, an associate of Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday. Kim is also recruiting more lawmakers to join him with the aim of making Ahn’s new party a so-called negotiation bloc inside the National Assembly.

A negotiation bloc requires at least 20 lawmakers, and the status comes with stronger power in National Assembly activities, such as participation in the negotiation of legislative calendars and larger financial subsidies from the state.

“Kim already made up his mind,” Rep. Choi Won-sik, one of his close associates, said. “He appears to have the goal of making the new party a negotiation bloc.”

Kim’s departure was expected after he gave Moon an ultimatum earlier this month to accept growing demands by lawmakers to step down from the chairmanship. At the time, Kim hinted that he could leave the party if his demand was not met. Moon has refused to relinquish control of the NPAD.

Rep. Choi Jae-cheon, another associate of Kim, will also leave the NPAD before the end of this month. Choi resigned from the post of chief policy maker earlier this month to pressure Moon to resign. Choi is a two-term lawmaker representing the Seongdong A District in Seoul.

“We are contacting other lawmakers to make the new party a negotiation bloc,” another Kim associate said. “Rep. Choi is currently staying abroad. He will come back around Sunday and announce his departure.”

Another Kim ally said Ahn closely consulted with Kim before announcing his road map to create a new party. “Ahn made clear on Monday that he will never form an alliance or electoral alliance with the NPAD. The underlying message was to ask lawmakers to decide whether they will stay with the NPAD or join him,” the source said.

Rep. Moon Byung-ho, who left the NPAD last week to join Ahn, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that a couple more lawmakers will leave the main opposition party this week. “Around the year’s end, about 10 will leave en masse,” he said.

Two lawmakers from Gwangju, Lim Nae-hyun and Kwon Eun-hee, are also preparing to leave the NPAD this week.

“We are currently drafting a statement for a press conference,” said an aide to Lim. “We can announce it as early as [today].”

Kwon originally scheduled a press conference on Monday to announce her decision, but postponed it for four days. Kwon said she will listen to the opinions of her district’s voters over the next few days and announce her decision after Christmas.

Rep. Jang Byung-wan of Gwangju Nam District is expected to leave the NPAD next week. If Rep. Park Hae-ja of Gwangju Seo A District, an associate of Kim Han-gill, leaves the party, the NPAD will be able to keep only one lawmaker in Gwangju, Kang Gi-jung.

Gwangju has potent political symbolism for the NPAD. Along with North and South Jeolla provinces, the liberal opposition party has never lost control over the area, known as the Honam region.

“If Honam is divided, winning a general or a presidential election is impossible,” said Rep. Park Jie-won, a three-term lawmaker from Mokpo, South Jeolla.

According to political analysts, public support for Ahn as a presidential contender has soared since he left the NPAD, and his new party is intriguing the public.

A recent survey by Realmeter on Monday showed that Ahn was ranked third on a list of presidential hopefuls and recorded 13.5 percent support, beating Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon for the first time in 17 months. Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung was ranked first with 20.3 percent support, and NPAD Chairman Moon was second with 19.1 percent.

Ahn’s new political party attracted 16.3 percent support, while the Saenuri Party recorded 38.2 percent and the NPAD 25.7 percent. The poll showed that voters in Busan, South Gyeongsang, Ulsan, Gyeonggi and Incheon who used to support the Saenuri Party switched support to Ahn’s new party, while the NPAD lost supporters in Gwangju and Jeolla provinces, or the Honam region.

In Honam, Ahn’s new party was ranked at the top with 30.7 percent support.

“The so-called ‘Ahn wind’ is more than a tempest in a teapot,” said Lee Taek-soo, head of Realmeter. “If more lawmakers, including Rep. Kim Han-gill and his followers, leave the NPAD to join Ahn, the ratings of Ahn and his new party will rise further, while the NPAD will lose support.”

“It is true that Ahn has disturbed the existing political order,” said Kim Mi-hyun, head of R&Search, another polling company. Kim added that Ahn took support from both the liberal opposition party and also the ruling Saenuri Party.

Some, however, downplayed the impact of Ahn’s political experiment. “When you do surveys, any party that is to be created always wins high numbers,” said Kim Choon-suk, director of Hankook Research.

Huh Jin-jae, director of Gallup Korea, said a support rate of less than 20 percent means nothing in a legislative election. “If it were a presidential election, 20 percent means something,” Huh said. “But if candidates of Ahn’s new party score 20 percent of votes in the general election, they will all be defeated.”

Kim Mi-hyun said NPAD supporters in their 20s, 30s and 40s became more united after Ahn abandoned the party, while Ahn absorbed NPAD supporters in their 50s and 60s dissatisfied with the Moon leadership.

“Ahn must become more assertive about reforms to attract voters in their 20s and 30s, but if he does, his original supporters could be turned off. This is Ahn’s dilemma.”

BY SER MYO-JA, KIM SUNG-TAK [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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