Powerful third party eyed in February.
A powerful centrist third party could be launched next month through a merger between the minor liberal People's Party and the minor conservative Bareun Party, officials from the parties said Sunday.
"Since (the merger) process usually takes one month, I think it will be completed by February," People's Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo told reporters after a party-wide poll that backed his push for a merger with the Bareun Party.
The envisioned new party could be smaller than the existing People's Party with 39 seats. The anti-merger faction in the People's Party a composed of 18 lawmakers a may refuse to join the new party, while some Bareun Party lawmakers may rejoin the larger conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP).
However, an opinion survey conducted recently by Korea Research showed the new party, if created, would have a stronger support base than the main opposition and largest conservative LKP.
According to the survey, conducted from Dec. 28 to 29, 19 percent of respondents said they would support the new party, if created.
The new party was the second most popular party after the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) which gained 43.4 percent. The LKP received 10.5 percent.
Another poll conducted by Research and Research also showed similar results. The merged party gained 14.2 percent, following the DPK with 40.8 percent. The LKP's popularity stood at 10.1 percent.
However, a few hurdles remain ahead of the merger. Ahn must hold a party convention possibly within this month, for the party to finalize the merger.
This could be another obstacle for Ahn's merger drive, since the convention is chaired by Rep. Lee Sang-don, a vocal critic of Ahn and outspoken anti-merger lawmaker. "Lee said he will not organize the convention, taking issue with the validity of the party-wide poll," Rep. Park Jie-won, de facto chief of the anti-merger faction, said in a radio interview, Monday.
Even though Ahn has gained momentum in pushing ahead the merger by the poll outcome issued Sunday, factional strife in the People's Party has not calmed down.
"The pro-merger faction has no way to kick off the poll on whether to merge with the Bareun Party or not. Without the chairman of the convention, how can they begin and finish the poll?" Park added.
To avoid the tricky process, Ahn's side is reportedly considering an electronic voting system which could prevent conflict with the anti-merger faction. Ahn, chief of the party's executive committee, is also entitled to convene the convention.
Rumors are circulating that pro- and anti-merger factions may create conflict in the convention. On Sunday, an unidentified party member attacked the party's election committee chief Lee Dong-sup, who was declaring the result of the party-wide poll.
Meanwhile, the conservative Bareun Party is moving relatively smoothly to the merger. Bareun Party Chairman Yoo Seong-min welcomed the poll outcome Sunday. No friction regarding the merger is detected in the Bareun Party leadership, sources said.