DPK primary race picks up steam

Presidential contenders from the Democratic Party of Korea ― from left, Goyang Mayor Choi Sung, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, former party leader Moon Jae-in and South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung ― hold hands before a televised debate at KBS on Yeouido, southern Seoul, Tuesday. / Yonhap

By Kim Hyo-jin

Four presidential hopefuls from the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) engaged in a heated TV debate that centered on how to overcome the legacy of the ill-fated former President Park Geun-hye, Tuesday.

Their debate drew much attention because it was held after the Constitutional Court upheld Park’s impeachment, triggering an early presidential election. A liberal candidate is highly anticipated to win the presidential poll, which may take place in early May, based on negative public sentiment toward the former conservative leader.

One of the hot debate issues was South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung’s pledge to cooperate with conservatives ― even those who are tied to Park ― in managing state affairs, if elected to the highest office.

Other contenders ― former party leader Moon Jae-in, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung and Goyang Mayor Choi Sung ― criticized An for attempting to collaborate with “those who should be held responsible for ruining the country.”

However, An maintained that the next government should not be just for liberals, but for all people from different ideological backgrounds.

The governor renewed his call to form a cabinet with figures varying from the conservative and liberal blocs and join hands with the conservative parties in the legislation process. He said it is the only way to truly reform society, which he says is an urgent task following impeachment.

“We need a powerful means for reform. We can’t always ask the people to express their support with candlelit rallies when pushing for reformative bills,” An said.

He added it was a “practical way” to make changes in state management, pointing out the number of opposition lawmakers falls short of the two-thirds of the 300-member National Assembly, a number required to pass a controversial bill in the legislature.

Lee, a noted anti-establishment figure, refuted An, saying, “It is a contradiction that you think of creating a new structure against social evils and establishments in a joint effort with those groups.”

He claimed cooperative politics in the next government should be limited to liberal parties. “Unity can be realized only when we introduce a fair order and clear out criminals and corrupt forces. Putting liberal parties under one umbrella can only make such momentum,” he said.

Meanwhile, Moon cautioned against focusing too much energy on the issue. He said political circles should strive to reflect the voice of the people, stressing he will prioritize communication with the public if elected.

“Reform doesn’t have to be about having as many politicians as possible on our side. With public support, rivals cannot protest our moves,” the leading contender said. “In that sense, joint efforts among the liberal parties should be enough.”

They also exchanged barbs over the issue of deploying a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery here, with Moon and An stressing the need to seek diplomatic efforts in persuading China while Lee claimed the plan should be withdrawn.

“The government was complacent, not expecting China’s economic retaliation. Now it is high time to get into talks with China,” Moon said. Lee, a strong dissenter to the anti-missile system, said, “it is not beneficial at all to the country as we face China unleashing economic retaliation and the U.S. bringing us under its influence.”

DPK will nominate its official candidate by April 8 ― in case it skips the second round of the two-stage voting with no candidate garnering over a majority vote in the first round, by April 3 ― after a series of primary elections in five separate regions.

With the court-ordered impeachment of President Park Geun-hye on March 10, the country has to elect a new President in 60 days. The most likely ballot day is May 9.

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