(LEAD) Ex-PM joins main opposition party, rejects criticism over his role in Park's gov't
(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)
SEOUL, Jan. 15 (Yonhap) -- Former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who worked under the scandal-hit, ousted President Park Geun-hye, joined the main opposition party Tuesday, possibly heating up competition for the conservative party's new leadership.
Hwang has been considered one of the potential contenders in the election for the Liberty Korea Party's leadership slated for Feb. 27.
A recent poll showed that conservative voters prefer Hwang the most as a potential contender in the 2022 presidential election.
Still, the former prime minister faces a stigma that he is closely affiliated with former conservative President Park, who was ousted in March 2017 due to a massive corruption scandal.
Hwang served as acting president when Park was suspended from office by a parliamentary impeachment in late 2016.
The LKP is still reeling from the fallout of Park's ouster.
Hwang rejected criticism over his alleged role in Park's political scandal.
"I don't agree with the criticism that all public servants who worked in the previous government are treated as part of deep-rooted ills," Hwang told a press conference.
"There is a need to assess what was done well and what went wrong as it is. It is not right to evaluate everything as deep-rooted evils," he added.
Hwang hinted at running in the party leadership election next month, vowing to end faction-based politics.
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and minor opposition parties denounced his return, saying the LKP is going back to Park's party while breaking its promise for reform.
"Hwang served as the justice minister and the prime minister as one of the key figures during the Park administration. He has a heavy responsibility for the political scandal involving Park," said Kim Tae-nyeon, the DP's chief policymaker, at a meeting with party members.
"Without any word of apology, he has returned to the political scene as if he was a triumphant general receiving a hero's welcome and is in the spotlight as a potential contender for the party's leader," he added.
Kim Kwan-young, the floor leader of the minor Bareunmirae Party, said that it is not desirable for Hwang to join the LKP as trials involving Park are still under way.
Hwang's entry added to a list of possible candidates for the party leadership.
Currently, the LKP is in an emergency mode, led by Kim Byong-joon, after its crushing defeat in local elections in June last year.
In November, former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon returned to the LKP.
Oh, once viewed as a high-profile politician in the conservative bloc, has largely stayed away from the political scene after he stepped down as mayor in 2011 over a row over free school lunches.
Politicians being floated as possible contenders include Hong Joon-pyo, former chief of the LKP, and Kim Tae-ho, a former provincial governor.
Hong recently returned to the political scene after resigning from the party leadership post over the election defeat last year.
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