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(LEAD) Opposition party sticks to leadership election schedule

Politics 15:07 February 11, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, Feb. 11 (Yonhap) -- The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) reaffirmed Monday that it will hold its leadership election as scheduled late this month after most of the contenders threatened to boycott the event.

Six of eight candidates for the LKP's leadership election, slated for Feb. 27, want the conservative party to postpone the event by at least two weeks to avoid a clash with a second summit between the United States and North Korea slated for Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam.

But the party rejected their calls once again following a similar meeting last week to review whether to delay a national convention to pick its new leader to replace interim leader Kim Byong-joon.

"Whether they will boycott the election is their business, not ours," Park Kwan-yong, the chief of the party's election preparation panel, told reporters after an emergency meeting with panel members.

The six contenders, including former LKP chairman Hong Joon-pyo and former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, said they will not register their candidacy on Tuesday if the party does not reverse its decision.

In that case, only Hwang Kyo-ahn, who was prime minister under scandal-stricken President Park Geun-hye, and Rep. Kim Jin-tae, known as a far-right politician, would run in the election.

The upcoming election was widely expected to be a race among three big-name candidates -- Hwang, Hong and Oh.

But as the election panel reaffirmed no change in the date, Hong said that he will not run in the election.

"It is regrettable that I could not run to the end," he said on his Facebook page.

The election is a key event facing the LKP ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections.

Internal strife surrounding the election date is likely to make the election fizzle out, as Hwang would then be expected to win the election overwhelmingly.

Hwang is viewed by conservative voters as one of the most favorable candidates for the 2022 presidential election, opinion polls showed.

Still, he faces stigma for being closely affiliated with former 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 parliamentary impeachment in late 2016. The LKP is still stung by the fallout from Park's ouster.

Incumbent LKP chairman Kim said the election should be conducted as scheduled.

"We need to line up for a battle before the outcome of the U.S.-North Korea summit comes out as we have a grave responsibility to tackle North Korea's nuclear issue, which has not been resolved at all," Kim said at a meeting with party officials on Monday.

"In that sense, the national convention should be held as scheduled," he noted.

This image captured from footage from Yonhap News TV shows eight contenders for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party's leadership election. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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