After independent victories, defectors seek a homecoming

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After independent victories, defectors seek a homecoming

High-profile politicians who won last week’s general election as independents after their parties deserted them are seeking to make grand returns, as the two rival parties are competing to increase their number of lawmakers in order to become the largest power in the National Assembly.

Rep. Lee Hae-chan, the former prime minister who left the Minjoo Party after it denied him a nomination, submitted a request on Tuesday to the Minjoo Party to restore his membership. The 63-year-old politician ran as an independent in Sejong City and won in last week’s general election.

During the nomination process, Kim Chong-in, the interim chairman of the Minjoo Party, did not to give Lee a ticket. The decision to rule out the political godfather for loyalists of the late President Roh Moo-hyun was seen as a strategy to reinvent the party’s image ahead of the general election by dropping established old-guard politicians.

Kim said Tuesday that Lee’s fate should be decided based on the party’s procedure of reinstatement. According to Minjoo’s regulations, former members are banned from returning for one year. An exception can be made by an evaluation committee, but opinions are now split about bringing Lee back. “We don’t have a membership evaluation committee right now, and Kim has no intention to rush,” an official of the emergency leadership said. “Lee’s return is not urgent.”

But a senior lawmaker said Lee will soon be reinstated. “We are in desperate need of more lawmakers,” he said. “He will eventually come back.”

In last week’s general election, the Saenuri Party won 122 seats, while the Minjoo Party won 123 seats and the People’s Party won 38. Eleven independents also won victories, and seven of them were Saenuri members who quit the party after they were denied tickets in the race.

Two, including Lee, are former Minjoo members. The remaining two are leftist independents who used to be members of the now-disbanded Unified Progressive Party.

After the humiliating defeat that reduced the party to the second largest group in the 20th National Assembly, the Saenuri Party said it will welcome defectors.

Rep. Yoo Seong-min, the former floor leader who was squeezed out of the party during the nomination process after his public spat with President Park Geun-hye, asked the party on Tuesday to restore his membership.

“I wanted to ask the party to reinstate me the day after the general election,” Yoo told reporters, “but I waited until today because it could be burdensome to the party which suffered a crushing defeat. When I return, I will restore the public trust on the party.”

The Saenuri Party’s regulations determine that the Supreme Council has the right to decide whether a defector may return. The Supreme Council’s members, however, have all stepped down in the aftermath of the election defeat, and the emergency leadership will therefore make the decision regarding Yoo’s return.

Another former Saenuri member, Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, also asked the party to allow his return. He submitted the application Friday.

Yoon, a former political advisor to President Park, was denied a nomination after an audio clip of a telephone conversation was leaked to the press. In the recording, Yoon can be heard telling an unidentified person that Kim Moo-sung, then the Saenuri chairman, should be “weeded out” and “crushed.” Yoon ran as an independent and won.

Although the party decided to allow the return of victorious independents, criticisms grew about Yoon’s fate.

“If we’re going to allow defectors to return, there is no reason to waste any time,” Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, a key associate of the president, said Tuesday. “We should allow their return as soon as possible and end any further debate.”

Others, however, are wary about Yoon’s return. “If we allow his comeback, I don’t know whom we can stop in the future,” an official of the Saenuri secretariat told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I have worked for this party for nearly 20 years, but such a brazen about-face is unprecedented.”

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