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With Kim at helm, conservative opposition party sets out to rebuild

Kim Chong-in converses with Rep. Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the main opposition United Future Party, at his office in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)
Kim Chong-in converses with Rep. Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the main opposition United Future Party, at his office in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)

The main opposition United Future Party is set to embark on a reform process, with an 80-year-old party outsider at its helm.

The party on Friday voted Kim Chong-in, a veteran politician well-versed in economy, as the head of its envisioned emergency leadership body, ending weeks of internal strife over how to revive the faction’s political fortune after a crushing defeat in the April elections and who will map out strategies for it.

Kim will serve until the parliamentary by-elections in April next year. His election and tenure are subject to final endorsement at a meeting of national delegates on Tuesday.

The conservative opposition group has been under pressure for drastic reform after letting the ruling Democratic Party take a solid majority with a total of 177 out of 300 parliamentary seats in the general elections last month, while it grabbed 103 seats.

The reform is expected to put a spotlight on resolving social and economic inequalities to depart from its decades-old emphasis on anti-communism and free market principles.

“Kim thinks that United Future Party will see a succession of defeats if it holds on to its image of representing people with money and power. … (He will) start by revising the party’s platforms and policies to reflect the (public) issues,” a close aide to Kim was quoted by Chosun Ilbo as saying.

Kim is expected to form a nine-member emergency leadership panel consisted of young experts in their 30s and 40s on economy, welfare and employment, aligning with his previous remarks that the party should embrace fundamental transformation to reflect the society’s structural changes.

Along with Floor Leader Rep. Joo Ho-young and top policymaker Rep. Lee Jong-bae, two more lawmakers of the upcoming 21st National Assembly will join the leadership team. The remaining four slots are likely to be given to “young and reform-minded members,” according to a party official.

Another mission would be laying the groundwork to field a strong candidate for the 2022 presidential election. Kim once said an economy expert in 40s would be an ideal fit for the job.

He may also control United Future Party’s satellite group Future Korea Party, which was created for the April election, as members agreed to a merger between the two before the opening of the National Assembly’s new term on May 30.

On Sunday, representatives of the ruling and the main opposition parties held a meeting to discuss the formation of 18 standing parliamentary committees for the 21st National Assembly. The conservative party seeks to obtain chairmanship for Legislation and Judiciary Committee and Special Committee on Budget and Accounts

The two are sought-after committees as the former holds power to examine key bills and the latter will deal with a third supplementary budget for the coronavirus crisis and the 2021 state budget.

Cheong Wa Dae on Sunday said President Moon Jae-in will have a luncheon meeting with new floor leaders of the two parties, Kim Tae-nyeon of the ruling Democratic Party, and Joo Ho-young of United Future Party on Thursday.

They will discuss a broad range of state affairs including response measures for unemployment rate and industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Park Han-na (