By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean political parties face mounting pressure to give younger, reform-minded candidates a chance to run in next year's parliamentary elections as public disappointment with the political establishment is growing, analysts say.
A political firestorm was ignited by an abrupt announcement by Im Jong-seok, former presidential chief of staff, to retreat from mainstream politics Sunday. Im hinted he will not run in the April 15 elections.
Rep. Kim Se-yeon of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) said on the same day he won't entertain an election bid. Kim, a reform-minded three-term lawmaker, called his party "a zombie," stressing the need for it to make a new start.
"Calls for a generational change remain high as people anticipate political retreats by aged or multiple-term lawmakers. Their announcement may serve as a catalyst for the overhaul drive," Ko Jin-dong, a political analyst, said.
For the ruling Democratic Party (DP), the elections will be a referendum on President Moon Jae-in, who passed the midway point of his single five-year term in early November.
Moon's approval rating rebounded in recent weeks after hitting a record low in October, affected by political turmoil over former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, whose family is under a prosecution probe.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) seeks to make a political turnaround with the elections, after years of being plagued by the fallout of the ouster of former scandal-hit President Park Geun-hye.
From inside, the DP faces calls for the retreat by the so-called 86 group or those who attended college in the 1980s and were born in the 1960s.
Politicians of the 86 group actively took part in student-led pro-democracy movements in the 1980s and later entered politics in their 30s. Im, 53, a prominent student activist, was elected as the youngest lawmaker in 2000.
The 86 group previously led progressive voices in local politics, but some critics said such politicians are now in the privileged position.
Rep. Rhee Cheol-hee, a one-term lawmaker who recently decided against an election bid, told a radio program Monday that it is time for the 86 generation group to "put a period" on politics.
But several 86 group politicians did not hesitate to express their discontent.
"Some speak as if we were politically vested. I feel a little insulted," Rep. Woo Sang-ho, a three-term DP lawmaker, said.
The conservative LKP faces multilayered challenges for generational changes. Critics said a main hindrance to reform for the LKP is followers of former President Park, the party's mainstream group.
The party still suffers from internal strife over the legacy of the impeachment of Park. She was removed from office in March 2017 due to a massive corruption scandal.
Public sentiment for the party remains chilled due mainly to its reluctance to embrace reform and to shed an image tied to Park.
"The LKP does not make any effort to read thoughts of people whose political stances are moderate," Rep. Kim Se-yeon told a radio program Monday.
At issue is also multiple-term lawmakers elected in the country's southeastern Yeongnam region, a traditional stronghold for the LKP.
So far, only Rep. Kim Moo-sung, a six-term legislator, and Rep. Kim have expressed an intent not to run. Their constituencies are districts of the southeastern port city of Busan.
The party leadership, filled with supporters of Park, appears to be lukewarm toward calls for the overhaul.
LKP chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn, who was the prime minister under Park's government, recently announced his plan to seek to join hands with other conservative parties for an election victory.
His initiative has not received warm backing from other parties.
Hwang, who launched a hunger strike Wednesday in protest of the Moon government, vowed painstaking efforts to reform the party.
"It is nothing new that Korean politics do not operate for the people as parties are only bent on political wrangling," said Ko, a political analyst.
"A party which does not read public sentiment cannot help losing the elections."
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