3 Lawmakers' Defection Sparks a War of Words

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3 Lawmakers' Defection Sparks a War of Words

Opposition Plans Street Protests

The defection of three ruling party lawmakers to the minor United Liberal Democrats has jolted the nation's politics into a new phase of confrontation whose outcome will determine stability for the second half of the Kim Dae-jung administration, political observers said Tuesday.

Their defection, strongly suspected to be engineered by ruling camp, gives the splinter party 20 seats, which means it can qualify as a negotiating group, enlarging its quarterly subsidy from the government as well as giving it more parliamentary employees.

As they opened for business for the new year, ruling and opposition parties continued their war of words over the unexpected move Saturday by the lawmakers.

The opposition Grand National Party, which has deplored the action as a "low action that a common person cannot even think of," kept up its attack.

"The ruling party is no longer qualitified to speak of political reform," the opposition said at a party ceremony to mark the opening of the year. However, the opposition leader, Lee Hoi-chang, is expected to meet President Kim as scheduled on Thursday.

"Some in the party feel that the two camps' leaders need meet," a senior opposition party official said on condition of anonymity.

"But the prevailing sentiment is that President Lee should meet President Kim Dae-jung face to face and hear the president's own words that there will be no more political alignment."

The opposition party said that it plans to stage street rallies and publish leaflets to denounce the flight of the lawmakers.

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party called move an inevitable step to stabilize the political arena help the economy.

"We have to take this opportunity to reconsolidate coalition with the United Liberal Democrats, a cooperation which will allow us to lead stable politics and revive the economy," the party chairman, Kim Joong-kwon, said.

Since the April 13 general elections last year, the opposition has held a majority in the 273-seat National Assembly. Before the defection, the Grand National Party had 133 seats, the ruling party 119 and the United Liberal Democrats 17.

The three lawmakers, Rep. Bae Ki-sun, Rep. Song Sok-chan and Rep. Song Young-jin of the ruling Milllennium Democratic Party, announced that they were joining United Liberal Democrats "to calm the volatile political arena."

Vice President Kang Chang-hee of the United Liberal Democrats held fast to his rejection of the three lawmakers. But insiders said that Mr. Kang does not have a sufficient power base in the minor party to turn them away.

by Kim Ji-soo

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