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(LEAD) Ex-Seoul mayor to run in opposition party's leadership election after boycott row

Politics 14:56 February 12, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 8,10-11)

SEOUL, Feb. 12 (Yonhap) -- Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said Tuesday he will run in the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP)'s leadership election late this month, abandoning his earlier pledge to boycott the event.

Oh was among six candidates who announced last week that they would not register their candidacy Tuesday in protest of the conservative party's rejection of their demand to postpone the election slated for Feb. 27 at least by two weeks.

They called on the party to postpone the election to avoid a clash with the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to be held from Feb. 27-28 in Hanoi. The party reviewed a possible delay twice, but decided to hold the election as scheduled.

Oh is widely expected to compete against his main rival, Hwang Kyo-ahn, prime minister under President Park Geun-hye who was ousted over a corruption scandal.

"I've decided to run in the election to prevent the LKP from becoming a party that only caters to specific regions and ideologies, not a party that serves the people," Oh told a press briefing before registering his candidacy.

"I will (make efforts) to prevent the party's return to the past and lead the party toward the future," he added.

Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon holds a press briefing on Feb. 12, 2019, to announce that he will run in the main opposition Liberty Korea Party's leadership election later this month, after he vowed to boycott the event last week. (Yonhap)

Oh's announcement came as the LKP is stung by a political storm that was caused by three of its lawmakers making controversial remarks disparaging a 1980 pro-democracy uprising.

The upcoming election is a key event for the LKP ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections. But factional divides among followers and non-supporters of former President Park, and the recent political crisis, have dented the party that is struggling to muster support from conservative voters.

Hong Joon-pyo, former LKP chairman and another big-name candidate, announced Monday he will give up his election bid.

Originally, eight candidates announced their bids, but five, including Hong, have said that they will not run in the election for a new leader who will replace incumbent Kim Byong-joon.

Another candidate who will likely run in the race is Rep. Kim Jin-tae who has come under fire over controversial remarks that disparaged a 1980 pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju.

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 his close affiliation 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.

Once viewed as a moderate politician in the conservative bloc, Oh had largely stayed away from the political scene since he stepped down as Seoul mayor in 2011 over a row about free school lunches.

Hwang Kyo-ahn, a former prime minister, announces his candidacy in the main opposition Liberty Korea's leadership election, on Jan. 29, 2019. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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