Lee Myung-bak says he plans to leave Saenuri

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Lee Myung-bak says he plans to leave Saenuri

Former President Lee Myung-bak said Sunday he will leave the troubled ruling party, leading to rumors of a conservative realignment by his loyalists.

“I decided to quit the Saenuri Party,” Lee said. “I wanted to do so earlier, but that could have been seen as a move to encourage other members’ defection. So, I will leave early this year, when everything is all passed.”

Lee announced his plan to leave the troubled ruling party of President Park Geun-hye when he visited the National Cemetery to mark the New Year’s Day.

The Saenuri Party, which once commanded 129 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, was reduced to being the second-largest group in the legislature after lawmakers, disgruntled with loyalists of President Park, defected en masse last week to create a rival conservative party.

After the first major split of the conservative party in its history, the Saenuri Party was left with 99 lawmakers.

Lee, a former businessman-turned-politician dismissed the possibility that he will join the new conservative party, tentatively called the New Conservative Party for Reform (NCPR), or any other political group.

After entering politics by winning his first lawmaker seat in 1992 with the conservative ruling party, Lee won his second term in 1996. In 2002, he won the local election to serve as Seoul mayor until 2006. He defeated Park in the presidential primary in 2007 and won the presidential election later that year, serving as president from 2008 to 2013.

Lee’s remark came amid growing speculation that his loyalists are moving to restart their political activities.

The 2007 presidential primary between Lee and Park created a severe factional division in the conservative party.

In 2012, the ruling Grand National Party renamed itself the Saenuri Party under a campaign for the general and presidential elections. Park, then the acting head of the party, led the campaign and a massive political purge of Lee loyalists took place.

While the pro-Lee faction was largely inactive during the Park administration, rumors spread over the past week that Lee and his loyalists are moving to support UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who returns to Korea this month, as the next president.

Lee Dong-kwan, former spokesman of the Lee Blue House, said recently he will help Ban if needed. CBS also reported last week that the former president approved his loyalists’ plan to support Ban in November.

Political insiders also said Ban, who has no experience in domestic politics, will benefit from Lee associates, who successfully operated a presidential campaign. Rep. Na Kyung-won, a Lee loyalist who decided to revoke her plan to leave Saenuri to join the new conservative party, also said she will support Ban.

Ban’s 10-year service at the United Nations came to an end on Saturday.

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

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