By Lee Tae-hoon
Former Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung was elected Sunday as the leader of a new liberal party during its inaugural convention in Seoul. It is named the People's Participation Party (PPP) and is composed of supporters of the late President Roh Moo-hyun.
"We are here to make a fresh start and revive the spirit of former President Roh Moo-hyun," the 65-year-old said after his election.
Rhyu Si-min, health and welfare minister during the previous Roh administration, did not participate in the leadership contest. He is expected to run for Seoul mayor on the party's ticket in the June 2 local elections.
Lee, a former theology professor, was the sole candidate running for the chairmanship. He served as unification minister between December 2006 and February 2008, and has been chairman of the Institute for Future Korea, a private think tank launched in June 2008.
"The PPP is open to communicate, discuss and ally with anyone to usher in a bright new era of politics," Lee said.
The party will likely select its candidate for the Seoul mayoral race at a Supreme Council meeting Tuesday, a party spokesman, Yang Soon-pil, told The Korea Times.
The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) denounced the establishment of the party, warning that the division of the liberal camp will only result in the splitting of votes.
"The PPP, which has been founded without any new value, is an exact duplicate of the DP," DP spokesman Noh Young-min said.
"There is no excuse to justify splitting the liberal forces at a time when the formation of a unified front might be insufficient to win elections."
DP Chairman Chung Sye-kyun also expressed concern that the new liberal party might deal a blow to the DP in the upcoming local elections.
"The upcoming elections will be tough for liberals and reformists to win even if we are united," Chung said. "It is needless to say that we will find it more difficult to win in the elections if we are divided."
However, the PPP refuted the claim that its establishment would weaken the collective power of opposition parties, saying it would rather create synergistic effect to garner public support.
The PPP will seek to form a coalition with other opposition groups to win the polls to pick mayors, governors and council members, Yang said.
He said the party has reached a consensus on the need to have one candidate between the two parties, but is against the method that DP Chairman Chung suggested in candidate mergers.
"The PPP wants the strongest candidates among liberal forces to run in the upcoming elections, instead of unconditionally backing the DP candidates." Yang said.