Hwang’s decision not to run leaves LKP high and dry

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Hwang’s decision not to run leaves LKP high and dry

Acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn’s decision Wednesday to opt out of the presidential contest for the May 9 election has left conservatives scrambling to find an alternative, while facing the prospect of seeing the Democratic Party (DP) seize power for the first time in 10 years.

The Liberal Korea Party’s hope for Hwang’s candidacy ran high as his approval rating hovered around a mid-10 percent range, the highest figure among all other conservative presidential runners.

But now with Hwang out of the race, the LKP must decide who it should nominate amid the rising prospect that the DP standard bearer, whether it be frontrunner Moon Jae-in or South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung, will clinch the presidency.

The LKP’s last hope to field a party candidate with sizable support, let alone one with the potential to win the election, may be South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo, who emerged as the most popular candidate from the conservative bloc of the LKP and Bareun Party.

In the latest poll, conducted on Wednesday, which took into account Hwang’s decision not to run, Hong saw his approval up by 3.6 percent, the biggest increase among other rivals, to reach 7.1 percent in fifth place. Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party trailed Hong with 4.8 percent.

Now with Hwang out, 32.4 percent of his supporters said in the poll they would vote for Governor Hong, while 14.9 percent said they would vote for South Chungcheong Governor An.

While Hong received the biggest support from former Hwang supporters and posted 7.1 percent support, the LKP is struggling over its lack of candidates with significant approval. While Hong, the former LKP chairman, is the only LKP candidate who made it into the poll ranking, the combined approval of three DP runners - Moon, An and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung - is 64.2 percent.

Moon led with 37.1 percent, followed by An with 16.8 percent and Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party with 12 percent.

Former President Park Geun-hye’s lack of contrition is not helping the LKP either, with many feeling this year’s election should be a judgement call on the faults of the Park government and the then-ruling LKP over the past four years. The LKP lost its governing party status with Park’s removal.

In what is seen as its attempt to find a break from its electoral dilemma, the LKP reached an agreement with the People’s and Bareun parties on Wednesday to put the constitutional amendment on the national referendum by the May 9 presidential election. The DP, which has the largest number of lawmakers, 121, immediately rejected the idea. Democrats made it their official stance that the amendment bill should be legislated next year, saying the national referendum on the revision should take place together with local elections scheduled for June 13 next year.

While the trilateral agreement is likely to falter due to strong objection from the DP and senior members of the People’s Party, the LKP could field a unified candidate with the two other major parties to defeat the DP nominee by framing the DP as the anti-amendment force. If the three major parties field a unified candidate, this year’s election could be a one-on-one race between the unified candidate and the DP nominee.

The LKP is scheduled to elect its nominee on March 31. Around 10 LKP politicians declared their bids in the primary. If Hong, who does not belong to a faction loyal to former President Park, wins the party ticket, the LKP could begin talks with the Bareun Party for a unified candidacy. But if a pro-Park figure such as Kim Jin-tae wins the primary, any chance for cutting a deal with the Bareun will likely vanish, given that Bareun has made it clear it will not take pro-Park figures in the LKP as partners.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]
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