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[Newsmaker] Yoo Seong-min picked as new leader for Bareun Party

Rep. Yoo Seong-min was elected to lead the minor opposition Bareun Party on Monday, while the party treads a tightrope for survival following a mass defection.

The new chairman, who was the party’s presidential candidate early this year, now faces the daunting challenge of navigating the looming wave of political realignment ahead of next year’s local elections. Last week, the Bareun Party, which was founded less than a year ago with 33 lawmakers, lost nine of its then-20 parliamentarians to its larger conservative rival Liberty Korea Party in a second wave of mass defection. 

Bareun Party's new Chairman Rep. Yoo Seong-min speaks at the party's leadership contest at the National Assembly on Monday. (Yonhap)
Bareun Party's new Chairman Rep. Yoo Seong-min speaks at the party's leadership contest at the National Assembly on Monday. (Yonhap)

“Today, you have chosen me to lead the true conservative party, not a fake one. I will proudly represent the Bareun Party,” Yoo said in his acceptance speech at the National Assembly.

“I pledge to you here today that I will protect the Bareun Party. I will protect the founding spirit and the meaning of this party,” Rep. Yoo said.

Yoo garnered 56.6 percent of the total 16,207 votes cast, beating four contenders. Three runners-up, Reps. Ha Tae-keung, Jeong Woon-chun and Park In-sook, were given seats at the party’s decision-making Supreme Council.

The new leader opposes a merger with the Liberty Korea Party, likening it to a return to old politics. The Liberty Korea Party, which was founded by impeached President Park Geun-hye, recently expelled the disgraced former leader in a bid to regain voter trust.

“Until voters know our sincerity, I will silently walk the lonely and difficult path. True conservatism will be reborn in South Korean politics when people see our true values,” he said, vowing to uphold true conservatism.

The Bareun Party has lost its parliamentary negotiation bloc status following the mass defections. Defectors include heavyweight figures such as six-term lawmaker Kim Moo-sung, Rep. Kim Young-woo, who heads the parliamentary defense committee, and Floor Leader Rep. Joo Ho-young, who finalized his departure after Monday’s leadership contest.

Yoo said he was open to a broad centrist-conservative alliance to confront the ruling liberals, while reconfirming his stance on a one-on-one merger with the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

“With the People’s Party, we have talked about a policy alliance. As I have said before, if another political force shares similar goals to us, we are open to building an alliance,” he said.

With liberal President Moon Jae-in and his governing Democratic Party of Korea enjoying an unseen level of public support, consolidation is widely expected in the fragmented opposition ahead of the June elections.

The minor splinter party was established in the wake of the massive corruption scandal involving now-jailed former President Park, as some 33 members defected from the then-ruling Saenuri Party -- which rebranded itself as the Liberty Korea Party -- citing that the party had failed to represent the values of conservatives.

But as the party struggled to win support from the public after its establishment in January, 13 defected back to the Liberty Korea Party, citing the Bareun Party’s loss in the presidential election in May.

The leadership election came after former chief Rep. Lee Hye-hoon resigned on Sept. 7 following a graft scandal.

By Jo He-rim (