Three minor Jeolla parties agree to join forces

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Three minor Jeolla parties agree to join forces

Three minor parties in the National Assembly based in the Jeolla region agreed Wednesday to merge forces ahead of April’s general elections, but disagreements about leadership threatens to break down that decision.

After days of consultations culminating in a meeting on Monday morning, the Party for Democracy and Peace, The Alternative and the Bareunmirae Party (BP) reached an arrangement to unite to form a single party by next Monday.

While the deal entailed the united party be led by a joint leadership council of three figures - one from each party - the compromise ran into dire straits just hours later after BP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu announced he would not step down to make room for new leadership.

In a press conference at the National Assembly, Sohn said he could not understand why the merger of the three parties had anything to do with his chairmanship, stressing that he would not resign nor relinquish control over his party’s reins in line with the compromise that BP Rep. Park Joo-sun made with the other parties.

Park told Yonhap News that he would attempt to persuade Sohn a second time, but the chairman appears adamant about keeping his seat even if a merger goes through. His inflexibility has already triggered much agitation within the party, with sources saying another wave of defections could follow suit.

Regardless of how the situation develops, and whether a merger takes place, electoral forecasts project a grim result for incumbent lawmakers of the three parties in Jeolla - a region also known as Honam.

All three parties have their roots in the short-lived People’s Party, which won nearly every seat in North and South Jeolla as well as Gwangju in the 2016 general elections after feeding off voters’ disappointment at the time with the Democratic Party’s (DP) decades-long hegemony in the region.

Public sentiment in Jeolla quickly changed, however, when former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and the DP’s Moon Jae-in won a sweeping victory in the 2017 presidential election with landslide majorities in the region.

The administration also strove hard to restore Honam voters’ confidence in the DP, appointing Jeolla natives to key positions in the government. Most notable is former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, the frontrunner by a large margin for the next presidential elections in 2022, who served as governor of South Jeolla before he was tapped by Moon.

Current polls show the DP is likely to win nearly all 28 district seats in the region by significant margins.

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