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Conservative parties desperate for survival

By Park Ji-won

The results from the local elections and by-elections, Wednesday, are expected to serve as a wakeup call for conservative parties.

Most of all, the elections will give a reality check to the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) as it lost in the fiercest of battlegrounds.

The Bareunmirae Party, which claims to be the "true" conservative party, lost the Seoul mayoral election after fielding former presidential contender Ahn Cheol-soo.

Considering the elections were considered a litmus test for liberal President Moon Jae-in, the results showed a large number of swing voters turned their backs on conservative parties. The outcome appears to indicate that painstaking reform is inevitable for the parties to regain the public trust and prepare for future elections.

Outspoken LKP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo will likely be urged to step down from his post, if he follows through on his earlier remarks that he would quit if the party could not secure six of the 17 metropolitan mayoralties and provincial governorships.

The Bareunmirae Party will also likely seek a merger with other parties as it has lost face in the Seoul mayoral election, in which party members insisted their standard bearer was the sole conservative candidate.

"If the Bareunmirae Party is defeated in the local elections, there is the possibility several members could join the LKP," Myongji University professor of political science Kim Hyung-jun said.

Currently, the LKP has 112 National Assembly seats while the DPK has 118. The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party has 30 seats, while the Party of Democracy and Peace (PDP) has 14 and the Justice Party has six.

Critics point out that conservatives have only themselves to blame for the devastating defeat. They oppose most of the ruling party's platform without having any strategic approach or policies for future generations.

"The reasons behind this sad downfall of the conservatives are that not only did they fail to provide policies and strategies for the future but they just continued to fight without self-reflection," Kim said.

Hong, who has been portrayed as a symbolic figure for opposing the government, is experiencing a backlash from party members and people in general for his blunt remarks. Many LKP election candidates refused endorsements by Hong during the campaign as he was not helpful, having a negative effect on them.

Last month, four-term lawmaker Kang Ghil-boo quit the LKP following a feud with Hong while senior lawmakers asked Hong to tone down his rhetoric.

Rep. Kim Sung-tae, floor leader of the LKP, went on a hunger strike calling for special prosecutors to investigate an opinion-rigging allegation involving a ruling party lawmaker. However, the public ridiculed his action, saying he was taking advantage of his authority to just benefit his party and was using the situation for political purposes.

When asked why conservatives could not cut ties with former presidents who are in prison, insiders say many party members have personal connections to Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak.

"Their numbers are small, but still some LKP lawmakers have inherited the legacy from previous conservative administrations," a party official said on condition of anonymity.

"Even though the two former presidents are obviously failures, the LKP members cannot cut ties with them as they are still connected in sentiment and finance."

Critics point out that voters were more focused on the ruling party's opposition to past conservatives' irregularities rather than the latter's parties' criticism of the Moon government's economic shortcomings.

"Still there remain big disappointments with the former conservative administrations of Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, and Moon Jae-in's government gained more popularity thanks to the North Korea-U.S. summit and North Korea-related issues," Kim Yong-chul of Pusan National University was quoted as saying.