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Leading presidential contender joins conservative main opposition party

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Former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl, left, poses with Rep. Kwon Young-se, external affairs committee head of the conservative main opposition People Power Party, after submitting his entry to the party at its headquarters on Yeouido, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap
Former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl, left, poses with Rep. Kwon Young-se, external affairs committee head of the conservative main opposition People Power Party, after submitting his entry to the party at its headquarters on Yeouido, Seoul, Friday. Yonhap

People Power Party primary to hit stride upon Yoon's entry

By Nam Hyun-woo

Former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl, a leading opposition presidential hopeful, joined the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP), Friday, intensifying the heated competition between him and the existing PPP contenders.

Yoon submitted his official application to the party during a meeting with Rep. Kwon Young-se, head of the conservative party's external affairs committee, at its headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul. He joined the party around four months after quitting the top prosecutor position after butting heads repeatedly with the Moon Jae-in administration.

"I have been thinking about this for a long time," Yoon told reporters. "To change the country's leadership, I believe it is necessary to join the conservative main opposition party and start with a fair competition during the primary."

"I believe that the PPP should play a pivotal role in the leadership change. I have been saying for a while that if I run for the presidency, I will have to be a PPP candidate," Yoon continued. "I also thought that my uncertainties over joining the PPP could harm the party."

Although Yoon was named to the top prosecutor position by Moon, he has long been considered as an opposition presidential candidate, as he resigned from the post and announced his presidential bid after locking horns with the liberal ruling bloc over prosecutorial reforms and the investigation into former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, who was also a close aide to the president.

Although Yoon resigned from the post in March and announced his presidential bid in June, criticizing the Moon government's fairness, he had remained ambiguous about whether and when he would indeed join the PPP, in an apparent bid to expand his influence to centrists. This ambiguous stance, however, also triggered doubts over his political identity among PPP members.

During this period, tensions had risen between Yoon and PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok, who pressured him to make a choice about his party affiliation, repeatedly saying that the PPP's primary will begin on Aug. 30 with or without Yoon.

Against this backdrop, Yoon submitted his entry to the PPP when Lee was out of office for an event in South Jeolla Province, triggering suspicions that tensions remain between the two, even though Yoon explained that "there is no special reason."

Former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl answers reporters' questions at the headquarters of the conservative main opposition People Power Party in Seoul, Friday, after joining the party. Yonhap
Former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl answers reporters' questions at the headquarters of the conservative main opposition People Power Party in Seoul, Friday, after joining the party. Yonhap

After joining the party, Yoon said that he will participate in the primary from the beginning, but added that "considering the competitiveness of the presidential race, that would be the fairest primary rule."

Yoon has been leading the pack of presidential hopefuls in almost all opinion polls since March, but has seen his support rating falling gradually recently, apparently due to his delay in joining the PPP and other controversies, including regarding his family.

In the latest poll by Realmeter of 2,058 adults from July 26 to 27, Yoon's support rating stood at 27.5 percent, followed by 25.5 percent for Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung from the liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).

After Yoon joined the party, PPP presidential contenders welcomed and expressed their hopes for fair competition.

"Unlike DPK's primary, which is tainted with mudslinging, our primary will be a fair competition," Rep. Ha Tae-Keung wrote on Facebook. "Let's have a fierce competition and debate for the future of Korea."

Choe Jae-hyeong, the former Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) chairman who joined the PPP earlier this month in an apparent bid to run for the presidential election, also welcomed Yoon as a rival, saying that, "by joining the party, Yoon has relieved the concerns of PPP members and the public," and, "I will work together with Yoon for the great cause of leadership change and for building a new Korea."

The PPP primary will start on Aug. 30 and eight contenders will be chosen in the first preliminary round on Sept. 15. After drawing up a shortlist of four in the second preliminary round, the party will choose a single candidate on Nov. 9. So far, more than 15 PPP members have announced their presidential bids.


Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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