Hwang lays out vision to end the LKP’s turmoil

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Hwang lays out vision to end the LKP’s turmoil

Hwang Kyo-ahn, the newly-elected head of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), said Thursday that reconciling the divided conservative party is his top priority, and urged members of Korea’s largest opposition party to fight against the Moon Jae-in administration’s “inept policies and despotism.”

The LKP elected Hwang, 61, the former prime minister of the Park Geun-hye administration, as its new chairman at its party convention Wednesday. Hwang, a former prosecutor with decades of expertise cracking down on national security cases, joined the LKP only in January.

Hwang is tasked with overseeing the LKP, which controls 113 seats in the 298-member National Assembly, in the months leading up to the April 2020 general election. Since Park’s 2017 ouster, the party has suffered a series of election defeats against the liberal Democratic Party (DP).

Hwang won 50 percent of the votes at the LKP convention, while his rival, Oh Se-hoon, won 31.1 percent and came in second place. The race was composed of voting by party members and an opinion poll of the general public. Hwang was far ahead of Oh in the party members’ voting, although he only had 37.7 percent of the opinion poll, while Oh had 50.2 percent.

The party also elected five new Supreme Council members Wednesday. The nine-member leadership council also includes Hwang, the LKP floor leader and its chief policymaker. Hwang will appoint the last member later.

Hwang hosted the first Supreme Council meeting Thursday and urged them to fight against the Moon administration and promote party solidarity.

“Unity is the top priority and precondition,” he said. “There will be various ways, but the party must unite first and we will seek grand unity step by step.”

He also visited the National Cemetery with the new leaders and paid respect at the graves of former presidents. He said he will later pay a visit to Bongha Village, where the grave of former President Roh Moo-hyun is located.

One of the first challenges that Hwang will face is deciding the fate of lawmakers who enraged the public by denigrating the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement at a public forum.

The LKP recently decided to expel Rep. Lee Jong-myeong over the scandal, but postponed judgment on Reps. Kim Jin-tae and Kim Soon-rye.

The three lawmakers prompted harsh backlash last month by arguing that the May 18 to 27, 1980 democratization movement was a riot influenced by North Korea. Although the party apologized for the scandal, other political parties demanded that the lawmakers be expelled from the LKP and the National Assembly.

Hwang and the new leadership are tasked with deciding the fate of two remaining lawmakers, but the situation turned tricky as Rep. Kim Soon-rye became a member of the Supreme Council through Wednesday’s election. Rep. Kim Jin-tae was also a candidate in the chairmanship race, and Hwang’s campaign of internal unity will be put into a test over the issue.

The National Assembly’s Special Committee on Ethics decided Thursday that it will hold a meeting on March 7 and discuss disciplinary action against the three lawmakers. Other motions to seek disciplinary actions against several other lawmakers will also be discussed.

Three LKP lawmakers, including Rep. Choi Gyo-il, who is accused of going to a strip club during a trip to New York, are facing disciplinary actions. The committee will also discuss the cases of DP Rep. Seo Young-kyo who stands accused of attempting to influence an ongoing trial, and Rep. Sohn Hye-won, accused of real estate speculation using insider information.

Another task for Hwang is addressing the controversy he has stirred by challenging the veracity of a key piece of evidence used to impeach Park.

During the chairmanship campaign, Hwang questioned the legitimacy of a tablet computer belonging to Choi Soon-sil, Park’s longtime friend and co-conspirator in the dramatic corruption and abuse of power scandal.

His remark was considered a move to charm Park loyalists to win the chairmanship. While he managed to win the election, concern has grown over his views on Park’s impeachment.

After winning the election, Hwang told the JoongAng Ilbo that “I repeatedly said I respect the Constitutional Court’s impeachment decision.”

Another challenge for Hwang is filling vacancies in the LKP leadership. On Thursday he named Rep. Han Sun-kyo as secretary general. He has yet to name the final Supreme Council member and spokesman.

Ahead of next year’s general election, Hwang will also be tasked with pulling off a conservative realignment, including a possible merger with the Bareunmirae Party.

It remains to be seen whether the moderate conservative party will cooperate with the LKP, since the LKP took a strong rightward turn during the leadership election process. As of now, the Bareunmirae Party has 29 lawmakers, the third-most in the National Assembly.

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