|Main opposition Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn, left, poses with a barber during his visit to Jongno District, Sunday, where he will be running as an April 15 general election candidate. Yonhap|
By Yi Whan-woo
With three conservative and center-right parties to partner up, whether they can woo their targeted voters in the April 15 general election was called into question, Monday.
The three are the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), the New Conservative Party ― a breakaway group from the minor Bareunmirae Party ― and Onward for Future 4.0 consisting of independent lawmakers who were formerly LKP or Bareunmirae Party members.
This will be the first time in three years that a joint conservative bloc will be formed under the Party for Future Unification; a rough English translation of the party's Korean name.
The preparatory committee for the merging of parties expects it will help in reforming the conservative parties' images tainted by the ousting of former President Park Geun-hye in 2017.
In 2017 the LKP became the successor of the then-ruling Saenuri party.
Skeptics, however, say the newly envisioned party may be seen as a rehashed version of the Saenuri Party.
The 12-member Supreme Council will consist of Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn and eight other senior LKP lawmakers, plus two non-parliamentary members ― Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong and Lee Jun-seok, an entrepreneur.
Won and Lee were formerly Saenuri Party members.
The council is believed to be planning to add two additional members from Onward for Future 4.0 led by Lee Un-ju, once a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), to create an impression of balanced leadership.
Still, concerns remain that the council leadership will be heavily influenced by the LKP and that the merger will lead to the revival of the Saenuri Party.
"This may affect steps toward selecting National Assembly candidates," Lee said, arguing Onward for Future 4.0 members and civic groups should be allowed to participate in the candidacy selection process.
"We certainly don't want the new party to be a repetition of the Saenuri Party, and Onward for Future 4.0 can certainly play a role," Lee added.
The critics say the new envisioned party may face a challenge in wooing centrist voters against Ahn Cheol-soo, a 2012 presidential candidate and a co-leader and or co-founder of multiple parties from 2013 to 2018.
He especially showed his political leadership potential when his nascent, centrist People's Party secured 38 of the 300 parliamentary seats to become the third largest party in Korea.
Ahn retreated from politics following his defeat in the Seoul mayoral race in June 2018 and stayed abroad before making a political comeback in January.
He then vowed to create a party aimed at shoring up a pragmatic and middle-of-the-road brand of politics in the lead-up to the April 15 election.
"Ahn's new party will make the Party for Future Unification look as if it is an expansion of the LKP, rather than a combined bloc of conservatives and centrists," Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University said.
Meanwhile, experts say LKP Chairman Hwang should meet New Conservative Party Chairman Yoo Seong-min immediately to clear up any potential misunderstandings that could lead to conflict.