Ex-South Korea PM to launch new party ahead of April election

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – A former South Korean prime minister announced on Thursday his plan to launch a new political party in a move that aims to challenge the domination of the two leading parties in parliament in the run-up to an election on April 10.

Lee Nak-yon, a five-term lawmaker who was prime minister in 2017-20 and then chaired the main opposition Democratic Party, is one of several political figures who have announced or signalled plans to exit the progressive party.

The Democratic Party has a majority in parliament, but has seen growing fissures with some members seeking to unseat leader Lee Jae-myung, accusing him of abuse of power.

Lee Nak-yon told a news conference he wanted an end to polarised two-party politics, criticising both the democrats and President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative People Power Party.

“The Democratic Party has degenerated into a one-man party, a bulletproof party, where violent and vulgar words and actions run rampant,” Lee said, calling for a multi-party system of “compromise and coordination”.

Lee’s new party could potentially undercut the Democrat Party’s majority at April’s parliamentary election, which would have policy implications for the remainder of Yoon’s term, analysts said.

With 167 seats in the 300-member, single-chamber parliament, the democrats have passed dozens of contentious bills despite opposition from Yoon and his ruling party.

Lee did not provide further details on his new party, but analysts expect it to join forces with two other former prime ministers from the Democratic Party and several incumbent lawmakers.

“As a potential presidential candidate having a democrat stronghold as his supporter base, he has the potential to shake things up in the election,” said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University.

Shin said the party could also end up damaging Yoon if it eventually reconciles and forms a coalition with the democrats.

The democrats have faced criticism over a series of corruption scandals, and some members have urged party chief Lee to step down or embrace reform and launch an emergency steering committee ahead of the election.

The political pressure on Lee Jae-myung comes after he was discharged on Wednesday from a hospital where he has been recovering since an attacker stabbed him in the neck last week.

He is also on trial after being indicted on bribery charges over a $1 billion property development scandal dating to his previous stint as a mayor, among other allegations.

Lee has denied any wrongdoing. Reuters could not immediately reach Lee for comment on Lee Nak-yon’s plan for a new party, though 129 democrat lawmakers issued a statement opposing the new party.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Ed Davies and Jacqueline Wong)