Splinter from Bareunmirae woos younger conservatives

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Splinter from Bareunmirae woos younger conservatives

A bloc of eight lawmakers who quit the Bareunmirae Party on Sunday formed the Party of New Conservatives (PNC), vowing to work for younger, reform-minded conservatives ahead of April’s general election.

After formally announcing its formation at the National Assembly building in Yeouido, western Seoul, members of the new party elected eight figures - including five lawmakers - to head the party as joint chairpersons, with each leader taking turns as primary chair every month. Rep. Ha Tae-keung was selected to lead for this month.

With eight seats in the current National Assembly, the Party of New Conservatives is now the fourth-largest bloc in the legislature, having splintered off from the 20-member Bareunmirae Party.

The new party’s de facto boss, Rep. Yoo Seong-min, renounced the Bareunmirae as an unsuccessful political venture that failed to gain the people’s support.

Despite Yoo’s and his comrades’ ambitious pledge to begin anew to build an attractive alternative for conservative voters, the new party seems like a clone of its defunct predecessor, the Bareun Party.

All eight lawmakers who formed the PNC on Sunday were once members of the Saenuri Party, the precursor to the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), but joined a group of 30 lawmakers who broke ranks in opposition to the party’s defense of former President Park Geun-hye during her impeachment.

The bloc formed the Bareun Party to become an alternative to the LKP, but the rebellion fizzled out after dozens of its members relented and returned to the arms of the LKP, leaving only the most strident behind. Having few options, the party eventually merged with the center-leaning People’s Party to form the Bareunmirae Party in 2017.

Yet given the ideological differences of its constituent members and a series of poor electoral performances, the party was beset with factional strife until it finally broke apart Friday with Yoo’s and his fellow lawmakers’ departure.

Clad in white turtlenecks and jeans, party members gathered for their first convention Sunday. Yoo proclaimed the party’s goal was to grow the party’s seat share from eight to 80 in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

“The people who will defend new conservatism, a reformist conservatism, have gathered here today,” Yoo said. “So what if we die in the process? If I die on the path someone will follow in my steps and as each person strides on, I am certain Korean politics will have changed.”

Analysts say the party is merely a stepping stone for Yoo and his comrades to eventually rejoin the LKP, in the context of the latter’s attempt to rally the country’s conservatives under one banner in time for the April election.

On Sunday, the LKP openly welcomed the new party’s foundation, with its spokesman Rep. Kim Sung-won saying the party’s objective of rebuilding conservatism “exactly matched” the LKP’s own goals.

Stressing that “unity of the conservatives is the call of the times and the command of the people,” Kim urged the PNC to hop on the “train of unity.”

In a larger scope, the LKP wants to extend a hand to Ahn Cheol-soo, who recently announced his return to politics, with the goal of building a grand coalition of conservatives.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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