Saenuri Party Is Back. No, Not That Saenuri.
As if South Korea’s conservative faction isn’t fractured enough as is, it now has a third conservative presidential candidate. This reduces the right’s already-minimal chances of getting a sniff at power when the country goes to the polls on May 9. Meet pro-Park Geun-hye lawmaker Cho Won-jin.
Cho declared his presidential bid in the southeastern city of Daegu on Wednesday, representing the revived Saenuri Party. If the name Saenuri sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also the former name of Cho’s former party. Confused yet?
Rewind to Jan. 24, when conservative lawmakers opposed to then-president Park Geun-hye broke away from her ruling Saenuri Party to form the Bareun Party. Two days later, lawmaker Yoo Seong-min announced his bid as the Bareun Party’s presidential candidate.
On Feb. 13, the Saenuri Party rebranded itself as Liberty Korea Party (LKP), nominating now-former South Gyeongsang provincial governor Hong Joon-pyo as its presidential candidate on Mar. 31.
On Apr. 5, the new Saenuri Party (not LKP) launched, in order to represent the frustrated supporters of the now-ousted president Park Geun-hye. “We will create a patriotic party to uphold the will of the taegeukgi Koreans,” the party claims on its website, alluding to the pro-Park protesters who for months rallied on the streets waving the taegeukgi, or the South Korean flag.
So what does Cho hope to achieve by further dividing South Korea’s beleaguered conservatives?
“The [pro-Park] taegeukgi demonstrations were the biggest popular gatherings in the history of South Korea,” Kim Eun-suk, a volunteer at the new Saenuri Party, told Korea Exposé. Her statement aligns with the claims of the pro-Park protesters, but cannot be verified. “But everyone ignored them, including the media. Cho Won-jin is running for the presidency to win a place for our movement.”
“Park Geun-hye was unjustly impeached; we want to make this fact known and restore her honor,” Kim said, adding that the party had received 150-200,000 membership requests so far.
On Wednesday, Cho held a press conference in Daegu, the traditionally conservative city where his constituency lies and from which Park Geun-hye formerly drew much support. Vowing to become “a patriotic president to set the Republic of Korea straight,” Cho pledged to boost the status of the country’s war heroes and “correct distortions” in public education allegedly resulting from the domination of teaching unions, traditionally leftist.
Meanwhile, South Korean wire service Newsis reported that on the morning of Cho’s press conference, the secretary general of the new Saenuri Party had to go to Jongno Police Station in northern Seoul. Jeong Gwang-yong, charged for inciting the clashes between pro-Park protesters and police on Mar. 10, denied the accusations. Mar. 10 was the day the Constitutional Court upheld Park’s impeachment. Three pro-Park protesters died in the ensuing violence.
Political parties in South Korea change names frequently, especially when their fortunes are down. Former presidential candidate Ahn Hee-jung once claimed that the names of all the parties formed since South Korea came into being in 1948 are “enough fill eight A4 pages.”
It remains to be seen what will happen to these new conservative parties after this spring’s early presidential election.
Cover Image: The new Saenuri Party’s opening ceremony on Apr. 5 (Source: YouTube).