UFP won’t rush to elect new leadership

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UFP won’t rush to elect new leadership

Following its crushing defeat in last week’s general elections, senior members of the largest opposition United Future Party (UFP) discussed Monday a plan to take some time to lick its wounds, form an interim leadership and prepare a plan to rebuild.

The Supreme Council of the UFP held a meeting in the morning and decided to form an emergency interim leadership, rather than rushing to elect a new chairman. “Most of us agreed that it is necessary to launch an interim leadership quickly,” Rep. Shim Jae-cheol, the floor leader and the acting chairman of the UFP, said after the meeting. “Some said we should hold a party convention and elect a new leadership, but the consensus among the council members was forming an interim leadership for now.”

The UFP, which had won 122 seats, just one shy of the ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s 123, in the 2016 general elections, suffered a humiliating defeat in last week’s elections. While the DP alone won 163 out of the 253 districts nationwide, the UFP saw their seats reduced to 84.

In the aftermath of the devastating defeat, the UFP leadership was practically dismantled. Its Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn stepped down from the post Wednesday night. Among the Supreme Council members, only Cho Kyoung-tae was elected.

As the new National Assembly’s four-year term starts on May 30, 2020, Shim said the UFP will first elect its new floor leader in early May. Shim, a five-term lawmaker, failed to get reelected last week.

Although the UFP leaders want to appoint an interim head to reinvent the party and prepare for a national convention to elect a new chairman, it remains to be seen who will take up the job. Some senior UFP members said Kim Chong-in, a renowned political strategist who had joined the party’s campaign at the last minute, must be appointed as the interim head, but others opposed the plan.

The UFP held a general assembly of lawmakers to listen to its representatives’ opinions, but no decision was made as of Monday afternoon.

Even if the UFP lawmakers want Kim to manage the party as the interim head, it remains to be seen if Kim will accept the task. “Honestly, I am not interested in that party,” Kim was quoted as saying by the Hankook Ilbo.

“They must decide on their own what would be the best way for them to recover from the current situation,” Kim said. “They must not talk about what I should do or not.”

Kim said he had already experienced how the UFP operates after an election. In 2012, Kim headed the victorious presidential campaign of Park Geun-hye for the Saenuri Party, the predecessor of the UFP. After the election, he and the party fell out over a discord over economic democracy policy.

Meanwhile, the outcome of the last week’s general elections show the largest opposition party is no longer controlled by Park loyalists. Political heavyweights who were prominent during the presidency of Lee Myung-bak from 2008 till 2013 largely returned to politics.

Jo Hae-jin, Park Jin and Lee Dal-gon were successfully reelected as lawmakers. Cho, a former two-term lawmaker, was the political aide of Lee when he was the mayor of Seoul. Park, a former three-term lawmaker and a foreign relations expert, was a member of Lee’s presidential transition team. Lee is a former proportional lawmaker and an ex-minister of home affairs from the Lee administration.

Chung Jin-suk won his fifth term, becoming one of the most senior members of the UFP. Chung was the senior political secretary of the Lee Blue House. Kim Eun-hye, former deputy spokesperson of the Lee Blue House, won her first victory as a lawmaker.

Some other Lee loyalists such as Reps. Joo Ho-young, Chang Je-won and Yoon Han-hong were also reelected. Jeong Woon-chun, former agriculture minister of the Lee administration, was elected for his second term as a proportional lawmaker by joining the UFP’s satellite offshoot Future Korea Party (FKP).

Kweon Seong-dong, who won three terms with the UFP, ran as an independent in the latest election and was reelected for his fourth term. Kweon was the head of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee when the National Assembly passed the motion to impeach Park in December 2017. Throughout the Constitutional Court’s trial, Kweon, therefore, acted as the lead prosecutor arguing for impeachment on behalf of the National Assembly.

Although the Park loyalists used to control the party even after her impeachment, only a handful of them, such as Kwak Sang-do and Choo Kyung-ho, won nominations. Six Park allies nominated to Daegu and North Gyeongsang, the longtime stronghold of the UFP, were elected, but those nominated in other districts such as Kim Jae-won suffered defeat.

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

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