Bareunmirae Party down to 19 lawmakers

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Bareunmirae Party down to 19 lawmakers

The Bareunmirae Party lost its status as a negotiation bloc as one of its 20 lawmakers abandoned his membership Tuesday in protest of Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu’s refusal to resign.

Rep. Lee Chan-yeol, a three-term lawmaker representing the Suwon A District of Gyeonggi, released a statement in the morning that he has decided to leave the party. With Lee’s departure, the Bareunmirae Party is left with 19 lawmakers, effectively losing its status as a negotiation bloc.

“The political arena has always been cold-blooded, but I tried to remain faithful,” Lee said. “But I have faced a limit. I don’t want to blame anyone. I only want to blame myself.”

Lee, a close ally of Sohn, expressed his bitter feeling in the message. “I cannot express my agony because I cannot be with Chairman Sohn till the end,” he said. “If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have been able to come this far today. My loyalty toward Sohn will remain unchanged.”

Lee entered politics by winning a legislative by-election in 2009 with strong backing from Sohn. Throughout his political career, he stuck by Sohn’s side. The pair left the ruling Democratic Party together in October 2016.

The Bareunmirae Party is on the brink of dismantlement as its lawmakers are planning departures en masse to join a new political party to be created by its former leader Ahn Cheol-soo. After his grand political return last month, Ahn demanded that Sohn, elected chairman of the party in September 2018, step down. Sohn refused, and Ahn left the Bareunmirae Party on Jan. 29 to build a new one.

Remaining Bareunmirae lawmakers and party officials are pressuring Sohn to step down by next Monday. If he stays, they will likely leave the party en masse. They have been boycotting any activities related to the party to pressure Sohn.

Sohn, therefore, ended up hosting a leadership meeting alone on Monday. Even his chief of staff did not join the meeting.

After Lee’s departure, the party now has six lawmakers with constituencies and 13 proportional representatives. The lawmakers elected from districts will keep their seats even if they leave the party, but the proportional lawmakers will lose theirs.

At least six of the proportional lawmakers are Ahn loyalists, and they are demanding that the party expel them. If they are expelled, they will keep the seats.

“Proportional lawmakers who are trying to participate in Ahn’s new party are doing harm to the Bareunmirae Party, so they must be expelled,” said Rep. Lee Dong-sup, acting floor leader of the party, while demanding his own expulsion.

The party’s regulation states that a party member who is a lawmaker requires two-thirds of the votes from the general assembly of lawmakers. If over 13 out of the 19 lawmakers agree, the proportional representatives will be expelled, lose their Bareunmirae memberships but keep the seats in the legislature.

If more lawmakers leave the party, the Bareunmirae Party will suffer a greater loss in the state subsidy. According to the National Election Commission, a political party receives a quarterly subsidy and an election subsidy. The quarterly subsidy is scheduled to be paid in mid-January, and the election subsidy is to be paid in late March.

According to the Political Fund Act, 50 percent of the total quarterly subsidy is distributed evenly among the negotiation blocs. A party with more than five lawmakers but less than 20 will receive 5 percent of the total. Parties with less than five lawmakers receive 2 percent.

The Bareunmirae Party, for its status as a negotiation bloc, has received 2.5 billion won ($2.1 million) of quarterly subsidy, but the amount will be largely reduced.

At the end of March, an extra subsidy for the election, totaling 10 billion won, will be distributed among the parties. If the Bareunmirae continues to lose more lawmakers, its share will further decrease.

Meanwhile, Ahn held a press conference at the National Assembly on Tuesday and announced his road map for a new political party. Ahn will hold a meeting of key supporters for a new party on Sunday and formally launch the party on March 1.

The party is tentatively named “Ahn Cheol-soo’s New Party.” Because there are less than two months left before the April 15 general elections, it will consider formally using that name.

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

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