Kim-Moon schism only gets wider

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Kim-Moon schism only gets wider

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Kim Chong-in, right, interim leader of the Minjoo Party of Korea, holds up a bicycle made of carbon fiber at the Korea Institute of Carbon Convergence Technology in Jeonju, North Jeolla, on Monday. [OH JONG-CHAN]

Kim Chong-in, the veteran political strategist who led the Minjoo Party of Korea’s victorious general election campaign, said Monday he will encourage a competition to produce a presidential candidate with national backing for the largest opposition party.

Kim, the interim head of the Minjoo Party, visited Jeonju, North Jeolla, on Monday and met with reporters to discuss the political climate after the April 13 general election.

The Minjoo Party won 123 seats in the 300-member National Assembly to become the largest political party, while the ruling Saenuri Party of President Park Geun-hye was reduced to second-largest, winning 122 seats. The People’s Party of Ahn Cheol-soo won 38.

Despite its overwhelming victory in the capital districts, the Minjoo suffered a crushing defeat to the People’s Party in its traditional stronghold of Honam region - Gwangju, South and North Jeolla provinces. Of the 28 Honam districts, the Minjoo only won three.

Kim made clear his ambition to restore the Minjoo’s standing in Honam. “For the Minjoo Party to win back the love of North Jeolla voters, a drastic innovation is necessary,” Kim said. “We must prepare a presidential contender whom the North Jeolla voters can trust.”

He said efforts by a few people won’t be enough to win back North Jeolla voters. “I will do my best to create a presidential candidate who can win nationwide support through a fair competition of multiple contenders,” he said.

The remark was a clear warning to Moon Jae-in, former chairman of the party who recruited Kim to head the general election campaign. Moon, narrowly defeated by President Park in the 2012 presidential election, has been considered the presidential frontrunner of the Minjoo once again for 2017.

A rift developed between Kim and Moon after Kim made clear his ambition to stay on as leader after the general election. Moon associates blamed Kim for the defeat in Honam, and Kim turned his back on Moon.

The Minjoo Party will hold a meeting of its officials and lawmakers-elect today to decide whether it will keep the current interim leadership of Kim or not.

While Moon made clear he won’t intervene in the decision, other senior politicians, particularly those with ambition to become the Minjoo’s new head, are demanding Kim surrender the post. They said a democratic election should be held to form a new leadership. Of the 123 lawmakers-elect of the Minjoo, about 70 are considered Moon associates who want a new chairman.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on April 24, Kim did not hide his disgust with Moon and his supporters, declaring that he won’t meet with Moon anymore.

Kim also hinted that he won’t help Moon in a presidential race. “After an election, they must cold-headedly analyze the outcome, but they were just thrilled about the victory,” he said. “If he has presidential ambitions, he should make his own judgment.”

Kim also shot down Moon’s proposal for him to take a role of leading the party’s “economic democracy” campaign. “He is not finalized as the presidential candidate, so how can he make such a proposal?” Kim asked. “His supporters are blaming me for the defeat in Honam, and I know very well what they are trying to do.”

On Monday, Kim once again attacked Moon’s associates for criticizing him for losing Honam districts. “The party was about to fall off a cliff but I saved it and made it the largest political party in the general election.”

He said Minjoo members must remember why the party needed the interim leadership from the start. “They failed to manage the party, so this emergency leadership, never seen before in Korea’s political history, was created and an outsider was invited to head it,” he said. “After two months, I rescued it and made it the largest party.”

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

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