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Asia

Newly-formed South Korean party hopeful for Ban's support

The splinter group of South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party is trying to convince Ban Ki-moon to join their ranks. The infighting in President Park Geun-hye's party has intensified political tension in the country.

Südkorea 29 Abgeordnete verlassen Saenuri Partei (picture alliance/dpa/EPA/Yonhap/YNA)

South Korea's poltical landscape is in turmoil after 29 lawmakers left the Saenuri party

On Tuesday, 29 lawmakers belonging to the ruling Saenuri Party abandoned South Korea's President Park Geun-hye and formed their own party, tentatively named the New Conservative Party for Reform (NCPR). The defectors are now hoping that the outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon would lend support to the new party.

Yoo Seong-min, a key NCPR official, expressed hope that Ban would join the new party, which would eventually convince more anti-Park politicians to join their ranks.

The split in the Saenuri Party comes on the heels of ever-broadening investigations into the corruption scandal involving the beleaguered president which has triggered massive demonstrations in the country.

South Korea's parliament voted to impeach Park earlier this month over allegations that she granted Choi influence over government affairs despite her having no official position. Choi is also accused of extorting money and favors from some of South Korea's largest businesses, including Samsung. The Saenuri defectors also voted in favor to impeach Park on December 9.

The Constitutional Court now has to review the case to decide whether to impeach Park, whose responsibilities have been handed over Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn.

New political alignments

Some analysts had already predicted a split in the Saenuri party when infighting between pro and anti-Park factions resulted in its dismal performance in April's National Assembly elections.

But what does the split mean for both Saenuri and the newly-formed NCPR?

"Saenuri's political prospects are grim. The party's image has been tainted due to its support for Park as it finds difficult to distance itself from the president. On the other hand, the NCPR's prospects are brighter, but they risk having a low ceiling of support as they could split the center-right vote," Parker Novak, head of the Red Team Advisory Group, a Washington-based political consulting firm, told DW.

Generalsekretär UNO Ban Ki-moon in Südkorea (picture-alliance/dpa/Yonhap)

Ban has a high name recognition value because of his time with the UN, say experts

Although Ban has yet to announce his intention to run for president in the next year's election, he hinted at the prospect while speaking to the South Korean correspondents at the United Nations earlier this month.

"I will devote my whole body to work hard if what I have seen and experienced as the UN Secretary-General helps develop the Republic of Korea. I will decide what to do after meeting people from every walk of life after returning home," Ban was quoted as saying by the media.

Ban's unclear motives

The 72-year-old former South Korean foreign minister was initially expected to make his presidential bid as a Saenuri candidate with Park's backing, but he distanced himself from the president after the outbreak of the corruption scandal.

Hypothetically, Ban can form his own political party, although analyst Novak says it would be risky. "It would be difficult for Ban to build a political party from scratch, and that too in time for a potential early vote," he explained.

Ban himself has ruled out the possibility. "It is not possible to do politics by myself and there should be some sort of means and vision, but it is difficult, at this time, to say whom I will work with."

Südkorea - Weihnachtliche Proteste gegen Präsidentin Park Geun-hye (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

Anti-Park protests continue in Seoul

Some experts believe it would be best for Ban to join the NCPR. "It would give him the infrastructure necessary to run a presidential campaign. It will also allow him to present himself as the 'fresh face' the South Korean voters are looking for," said Novak, adding that Ban would also need a talented team to navigate the realities of the electoral politics.

Kim Dong-cheol, the interim leader of the People's Party, has also invited the outgoing UN Secretary-General to join them.

With or without Ban

There are reports that some NCPR members are also preparing a bid for South Korea's presidency.

"All political parties have internal rivalries; the NCPR is no different. But I don't think these rivalries will damage the NCPR campaign as it seems pretty united at the moment," underlined Novak.

Kim Kyoung-soo, an apposition lawmaker, told The Associated Press news agency that the newly-formed NCPR has no prospects for securing the presidency with or without Ban. He said the voters "will not approve a political reshuffle that lacks sincere remorse and self-reflection, and only chases the delusion of recreating a pseudo conservative government."

According to a recent poll, Ban has a slim lead over his possible presidential opponent Moon Jae-in of the Liberal Democratic Party. Some 23.3 percent of the respondents supported Ban, whereas 23.1 percent backed Moon, who lost narrowly to Park in the 2012 election.

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