The floor leader of the minor opposition People's Party sought Tuesday to defuse a growing rift over the idea of a merger with a conservative party, saying "the time is not yet ripe."
The merger scheme, led by chairman Ahn Cheol-soo, has faced stiff resistance from party seniors who have warned it would undermine the party's liberal platform, obscure its political identity, and inflame its support base in the southwestern Honam region.
Ahn has been pushing for a tie-up with the minor Bareun Party as part of his drive to bring together centrists and liberals, and expand his party into a middle-of-the-road political entity.
|Kim Dong-cheol (L), the floor leader of the minor opposition People`s Party, speaks during a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 14, 2017. (Yonhap)|
"There is resistance from within the People's Party, and there isn't sufficient consensus from people, including those in the Honam region," Kim told Yonhap News Agency over the phone.
"Now is not the time for discussions over the merger between the two parties, and we have to wait until the time becomes ripe for it," he added.
The merger issue came amid the emerging prospect of a major political realignment ahead of next year's mayoral and gubernatorial elections seen as a crucial referendum on President Moon Jae-in's first year in office.
Senior party members, mostly loyalists of late former President Kim Dae-jung, have been leery of the merger drive, as it could damage the liberal icon's legacies such as the "Sunshine Policy" of engaging Pyongyang with unconditional largess.
The Bareun Party has long opposed such engagement, saying it has contributed to the North's advances in its nuclear and missile programs.
Amid the pushback, Ahn has recently been soft-pedaling his integration agenda, saying he would, for now, explore the possibility of just policy or election-related collaboration with the minor party. He plans to discuss the issue during a meeting of all party lawmakers late this month.
As Ahn insists on seeking ties with the Bareun Party, opponents have blamed Ahn for eroding the party's support base and failing to boost its approval rating, with some hinting they could defect.
In the latest survey conducted last week by local pollster Realmeter, the People's Party gained only 5.3 percent, the lowest among the five major parties.
Meanwhile, the Bareun Party, hit by mass defections, is exploring ways to survive in times of political flux. Yoo Seong-min, its new leader, said that his party would create dialogue channels with the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and People's Party to discuss the possibility of political cooperation.
Later in the day, Yoo visited Ahn and reaffirmed his resolve for cooperation with the People's Party in policy or other areas.
"I have come here to discuss in earnest the possibility of cooperation between the two parties," Yoo told Ahn.
"Given that we both are opposition parties to keep in check and criticize the Moon government, and put forward alternatives, I want to discuss how we can work together to play this role," he added. (Yonhap)