Leading Separatist of Ruling Party Asks for Forgiveness for Helping Elect President Park
SEOUL, Dec. 21 (Yonhap) -- Ruling Saenuri lawmakers who have been at odds with President Park Geun-hye announced their intent to leave the party within the year on Wednesday, citing the incumbent leadership's reluctance to embrace reforms despite the impeachment crisis.
A total of 31 lawmakers met earlier in the day to outline their resolve to leave next Tuesday. The figures include Rep. Yoo Seong-min and Rep. Kim Moo-sung, the former floor leader and the chief of Saenuri, respectively.
The group said at least 35 lawmakers will opt to leave, which would be enough to meet the minimum number of 20 needed to form a negotiation body at the National Assembly.
"Although we tried to seek a reform and revolution at Saenuri, we have reached a conclusion that the goal is impossible," Yoo said.
While the non-Park faction earlier proposed that Yoo should head the party's emergency committee and be granted full authority, the plan was turned down by the loyalists, who claimed that dissenters should just leave instead of inciting further internal conflict.'
Last week, loyalist Rep. Chung Woo-taik was elected as the floor leader, beating his competitors from the anti-Park group, which also came as a disappointment for those critical of the running of the party.
"I have always dreamed of a generous and righteous conservatism," Yoo said. "To start anew, we decided to leave the party for the kind of conservatism we can proudly show to the younger generation."
Yoo said he has no plans to reconsider his choice, even if the loyalists decide to accept him as the emergency committee chair.
"Park's lack of communication led to the violation of the Constitution, which led to the national tragedy," Kim also said.
Kim added he wishes to ask the people for forgiveness for his contribution to Park's successful campaign during the presidential election of 2012.
Dissenters and Park loyalists have collided openly since the outbreak of the influence-peddling scandal surrounding the president and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.
The group said it would seek to establish a new conservative power that can win the upcoming presidential race, which could take place a few months earlier than the original schedule of next December if the Constitutional Court approves the impeachment.
"We agreed to take a new path to seek a true conservative political platform," Rep. Hwang Young-cheul said. "Our goal is to fight against the hegemony of Park, as well as Moon Jae-in."
Moon, is a former Democratic Party leader, who is viewed as a favorite among the opposition bloc in the presidential race.
The announcement marks the first major departure, since Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil and Rep. Kim Yong-tae left Saenuri in November following the public uproar surrounding the scandal centered on the president and her close friend.
Political observers said around 40 lawmakers may bolt from Saenuri, which would be enough to make them the third-largest political body in parliament, outpacing the 38 seats held by the People's Party.
Park loyalists condemned the plan, calling the dissenters "cowards" and "whiners."
"After losing the vote on picking the floor leader, they have decided to leave. It is like small children whining for things they want and later deciding to run away from home (when they can't get them)," a loyalist lawmaker said.
"They should have left when the parliament discussed the impeachment. But they were just calculating political interests and made the decision just now without any justification," he added.
Another loyalist said Park's confidante Choi Soon-sil, who exerted influence on state affairs, should be blamed for the scandal, not the president herself.
Chung said he is extremely disappointed, adding Yoo should have consulted with him beforehand.
"I even visited Yoo's office earlier in the morning," Chung claimed.
Chung said Yoo and Kim are not "influential leaders," indicating they will face challenges in leading a new party.
There have been growing calls by conservatives to reassess the scandal and not rely on "biases" generated by the local press and liberal-leaning civic groups at the core of impeachment rallies over past weeks. These groups, they argued, have opposed Park all her political career and cannot be viewed as being fair.
Conservative-oriented groups have started organizing their own rallies, saying there is no cause for the impeachment and that lawmakers bowed to public opinion without examining the facts of the case correctly.
The opposition parties also claimed the separation only reflects the limit of the conservative bloc.
Rep. Woo Sang-ho, the floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, said the dissenters' group is only a union of figures that failed to blend in with other members.
Moon Jae-in, former head of the Democratic Party who is cited as one of the leading contenders in next year's presidential race, said he is "not interested" in Saenuri's factional feud.
"Until the presidential election, there will be various attempts to seek a third way, including the separation of Saenuri," Moon said. "But I am only interested in the change of the administration."
Moon said the main opposition party should only focus on building its strength in order to win the presidential election, regardless of what rivals do.
If the dissenters kick off a new party, the Democratic Party will become the No. 1 player at the 300-seat parliament with 121 seats.
Saenuri currently holds 128 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly.
It would mark the first time since 1988 that the National Assembly will have four negotiation bodies.