▲ Governor Won Hee-ryong Photo courtesy Jeju Government
On Jan. 4, Governor Won Hee-ryong officially announced to the National Assembly that he was leaving the ruling party to join a breakaway conservative coalition. Won said, "I am leaving the Saenuri Party, in a bid to forge a new political power."
The New Conservative Party for Reform was officially inaugurated on Jan. 24 by which time 30 lawmakers had already defected to it from Saenuri including two provincial governors.
At the time of his defection, Won was the second provincial leader to leave Saenuri after Gyeonggi Province Governor Nam Kyung-pil made the move a few days previous.
Yonhap News reported Won as saying he apologized to the public for failing to prevent “the Park administration's bungled state management”, in reference to the Choi Sun-shil scandal which has thrown the party into turmoil.
The number of Saenuri-affiliated local governments was reduced to 6 out of 17 following the news.
Yonhap also reported that Won Hee-ryong was positioning himself for a prominent role in the new party alongside other “Saenuri bigwigs” including Governor Nam of Gyeonggi Province and former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon.
“I express my heartfelt respect for the people who left the Saenuri party in order to build this new house,” said Won.
It is not yet clear whether former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will join the party, although a close associate of his is thought to already be involved.
On Jan. 5 the New Conservative Party for Reform announced that they intend to be a party of “reformist conservatives” embodying a “clean and warm conservatism” that will uphold the principles of liberal democracy, the free market, and social integration.
The party will focus on “political reform, inclusive growth, and generous welfare, drawing a line in the sand with the scandal-fraught Saenuri Party,” reports Yonhap.
Elected chair of the preparatory committee, Rep. Choung Byoung-guk, said that, "We will demolish an outdated order and make a new political fellowship together with the people."
Governor Won also said that the new party, although being established by erstwhile Saenuri members, should look to “move beyond the walls of conservatism.”
The party aims to reach out to liberal and progressive voters with its pledge to improve decentralized power and hold referenda on key issues.
Other mooted policy points include halting the construction of additional nuclear power plants, improving working conditions for temporary workers, and engaging with North Korea over its nuclear program.
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