S. Korea’s 300-Seat Unicameral Parliament Now Has Four Negotiating Groups Instead of Three Following the Breakup of the Ruling Saenuri Party
Choo Mi-ae Leader Democratic Party
At a plenary session on December 29, the Korean National Assembly officially endorsed a change in floor dynamics following the breakup of the ruling Saenuri Party due to the Choi Soon-sil scandal, South Korea's biggest political crisis. The National Assembly's 300-seat unicameral Parliament now has four negotiating groups instead of the previous three, with the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) being the largest. Reflective of their elevated status on the floor, the DPK's 121 lawmakers moved to the center of the plenary hall, an area previously held by Saenuri members. Saenuri has been moved to the right of the hall. The remaining seats on the left side of the hall are distributed among the People's Party, tentatively named the New Conservative Party for Reform (NCPR), and lawmakers who do not belong to any of the four floor-negotiating groups. The floor seats have been rearranged in order of each party's size. As of December 29, Saenuri has 99 seats compared to its previous 128. The runner-up People's Party has 38 seats and the splinter group from Saenuri, NCPR, has 30 lawmakers. On December 27, a group of 29 lawmakers left the ruling Saenuri Party to create the new conservative party. The faction automatically gained the status of a "Parliamentary Negotiating Group" - having 20 members - which means it can immediately act as a political party prior to its official inauguration, slated on Jan. 24. 2017. "We will begin our journey to play a pivotal role for the conservatives and provide them with orderly and stable reform. We will preserve liberal democracy, achieve social unification and create a warm community," said the defectors in a statement. Rep. Kim Yong-tae who had already quit the ruling party last month joined the group, making it the fourth-largest party with 30 lawmakers. And Rep. Joo Hoyoung, a four-term lawmaker, was named the new party's floor leader while threeterm lawmaker Lee Jong-gu became its chief policymaker. In a joint statement, they harshly criticized loyalists of impeached President Park Geun-hye, who have dominated party affairs, for not taking responsibility for the unprecedented influence-peddling scandal involving Park and her close associate Choi Soon-sil. "Our biggest mission is to restore conservative values and the spirit of economic reform, which have been marred by the pro-Park faction," said Rep. Choung Byoung-gug, chief of a steering committee for establishing the new party. The group vowed to "recreate a conservative administration," signifying it will put forward a candidate for the presidential race, possibly slated for early next year.
The defection group includes a number of former Saenuri heavyweights, such as former Saenuri leader lawmakers Rep. Kim Moo-sung and former Saenuri Floor Leader Rep. Yoo Seong-min. Both had clashed with Park over her welfare policies and nomination rule for the 2016 general elections. There are other high-profile legislators working at parliamentary committees. Among them are third-term lawmaker Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, chairman of Legislation and Judiciary Committee who would represent the legislative body during the impeachment trial against Park at the Constitutional Court. Rep. Kim Moo-sung, who is leading the group, mentioned U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a potential leading presidential candidate many speculate, will join the new party, although the ruling party is also eyeing him. "Ban will never choose the Saenuri Party," Kim told reporters, dismissing the ruling party as "President Park's private party." The party's other leading member, Rep. Yoo Seung-min, indicated his intention to run in the presidential election, saying, "I will declare my resolution at an early date." Yoo has openly proposed that Ban join the party and undergo a primary competition with other candidates. Rep. Yoo has defined his policy as "conservative in security but peoplefriendly on economic, welfare, education and labor issues." The statement made on announcing the birth of the new party generally represents Yoo's ideas. "The market economy should be warm, and take care of neighborhoods' lives," it reads. "I believe conservative parties should also care for the society's bipolarization and inequality problems and need to come up with some bold policies for social change," said Rep. Yoo during a radio interview. "Reforms in taxation and the labor industry are crucial." "Reformative conservatism means that we will add new reformative moves in sectors such as economy, welfare, labor, education and child care so as to protect our community from collapsing under inequality and polarization," he said. The group of dissenters, united over their criticism of the President, faces a key challenge ahead, as member lawmakers carry differing views on the new party's principal policies. The new party may be seen as reflecting the new political entity's two-pronged challenge: proving its reformative spirit, while holding on to its conventional support base.
"What we must do is to convince (the people) that our party may achieve what conventional conservative parties have been unable to do," said Floor Leader Rep. Joo Ho-young. "It is crucial to embrace the core values of conservatives, while pointing out clearly what they should reform and change." According to the domestic dailies, the notable tone of the Saenuri defectors was that they claimed to have the authenticity of the nation's leading conservative cluster while cutting off all ties with the Saenuri name. Though policy details are yet to be revealed, gestures have been detected from key members that the new party wishes to expand its political leverage into the centrist-reformist sector, moving a step away from the conservative. "We will definitely take a different stance from Saenuri when it comes to conglomerate reforms and welfare policies," said the party's chief policymaker Rep. Lee Jong-koo. It was inevitable and desirable that reformist lawmakers decided to leave the ruling Saenuri Party where loyalists of President Park Geun-hye have been digging their heels in to shield their beleaguered boss and hold onto their vested interests. Most of all, the launch of a new conservative party by the breakaway group could lead to political realignment or a series of alliances ahead of the next presidential election. The breakaway group, which includes former party leader Kim Moo-sung and former Floor Leader Yoo Seong-min, said 34 lawmakers have signed an agreement to quit the party. More lawmakers who do not belong to the pro-Park faction might also join forces. This is highly likely, as 62 of the 128 Saenuri members are believed to have joined the opposition to vote to impeach Park earlier this month. Moreover, some senior members have already left the party, including Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil and fourth-term lawmaker Kim Yong-tae. Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong and former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, both presidential hopefuls, also indicated that they would follow suit. This means the potential new party could supersede the People's Party as the third-largest party - behind the main opposition DPK and Saenuri - and would have clout strong enough to play a key role in any political realignment possibly involving potential presidential candidates such as UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon and former People's Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo. After the Choi Soon-sil scandal broke out, Saenuri party leader Lee Jung-hyun, who is close to President Park Geun-hye, was bent on shielding the President and holding onto control of the party. He shunned mounting public pressure that called for him and his fellow pro-Park members to step down from their posts. Lee stepped down only after Chung Woo-taik, another Park loyalist, was elected new floor leader. Chung offered reconciliatory gestures by promising that the pro-Park faction would disband voluntarily and that senior members would not take party posts.