|Rally participants seeking the cancelation of the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye wave South Korean and U.S. flags in central Seoul on March 9, 2017, one day before the impeachment decision. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
By Park Ji-won
Struggling to gain public trust after the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, the largest opposition Liberty Korea Party's (LKP) move to welcome far-right voices into the party casts doubts over the effectiveness of the move.
Jun Won-tchack, who assumed a post with the LKP's reform committee last week, made it clear he will embrace the Taegeukgi protesters who carry out flag-waving rallies, meaning inviting those people to join the party.
"The Taegeukgi protesters are not extreme far rightists but eager supporters of former President Park Geun-hye," Jun said during a radio interview after his appointment to the committee last month. "I won't eliminate them from conservative forces."
The group is known to oppose the current government for being too supportive of North Korea, and advocate for Park and her father Park Chung-hee, claiming the two were good leaders and not guilty of any crimes. Those people are not led by a single organization but headed by about five, according to sources. They normally hold street protests in central Seoul ― Gwangwhamun and Seoul Station for example ― almost every week.
Criticism has arisen over their romanticizing of the rule of the impeached Park, who is in jail on corruption charges.
"The candlelit rallies at Gwanghwamun showed the characteristics of the citizens, while the Taegeukgi rallies showed those of subjects," Jun Tae-guk, an honorary professor at Kangwon University, has been quoted as saying.
"(The Taegeukgi rally) support Park Geun-hye's incompetent government without question. It is a pre-modern characteristic."
Tension rises between LKP members
Tension between LKP lawmakers over the acceptance of the protesters into the party has escalated as members divide into factions showing signs of a leadership battle.
|Kim Byoung-joon, center, interim leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, speaks during a reform committee meeting at the National Assembly, Monday. Yonhap|
LKP interim leader Kim Byoung-joon heads the reform committee, a role he assumed in June. It has been pushing for the integration of conservative forces before February's party convention, where it will elect a new leader who has the right to nominate candidates for the 2020 general elections.
Kim, who is reaching out to political heavyweights closely related to Park Geun-hye as part of integration efforts, recently met former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon over joining the LKP.
However, he has shown some differences from Jun over the acceptance of the extreme forces, saying, "I would like to define conservative integration. I am not saying to put everyone into one group," meaning their introduction was not desirable.
The pro-Park Geun-hye group is, meanwhile, stepping up criticism of Kim's leadership, possibly supported by Taegeukgi members who have recently joined the party as ordinary members. Party insiders said the number of LKP members has risen and many are these "protesters." LKP members, who pay around 1,000 won ($1) for party membership of more than three months, can exercise their rights as voters at the national convention.
Members of the pro-Park faction started to speak out following the inflow of the extremists.
Rep. Hong Moon-jong, known as a key figure in the LKP's pro-Park faction, criticized the non-Park faction last week, saying, "to become a proper party, the people who led the impeachment (non-Park faction) should wake up."
Rep. Chung Woo-taik also made it clear he is against Kim Byoung-joon's idea of uniting conservatives, saying "Kim is talking about the integration of conservatives, but I don't say bringing the people into the party who quit earlier is the way to integration. The job should be carried out by the next leader as it is the key to the next general election."
Chung, who is considering running for the party leadership, is likely to prevent a takeover by the political heavyweights being headhunted from outside by the party's reform committee.
These conflicts are likely based on the LKP members' desires over the future leadership.
Kim rejected the criticism Thursday, saying "I am putting all my efforts into uniting the party. I clearly say do not test the reform committee and its leader." His remarks are possibly meant to silence the pro-Park faction so he can remain as interim leader.
Over the continuing conflicts, critics are casting doubts about the LKP's direction to unite conservatives, saying it is only creating disharmony among its members.
"The situation is getting confused," Kim Hong-guk, an adjunct professor at Kyonggi University, was quoted as saying to YTN. "The LKP is tasked with establishing the direction of conservatives and eliminating people who were involved in the Park Geun-hye scandal. But this is now up in air.
"The so-called Taegeukgi group is de facto defending Park Geun-hye and opposing her impeachment. It seems difficult for the party to recover as a conservative force if it does not regret what it has done."
Park Jung-ha, a former spokesman for the presidential office, said: "I cannot see self-reflection or innovation at the LKP and the party is making some sloppy remarks such as talking about a big tent. I hope conservative parties stand still and provide checks and balances with the ruling party. But the present LKP is not enough for past and present supporters."
Rep. Park Jie-won also criticized the LKP's move to introduce the extremists, saying "they are trying to return to the Park Geun-hye party."
"They calculate that they can only secure small numbers. Compare the number of rallies between the candlelit and Taegeukgi rallies. If the party goes against history and the people, it will never succeed as a political party."