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New York Times - Conservatorii din Coreea de Sud dezintegrați după suspendarea președintei Park

New York Times - South Korean Right Is Frozen, as Impeached Leader’s Loyalists Won’t Let Go

Supporters of President Park Geun-hye in December during a protest in Seoul against her impeachment.

February 18, 2017 SEOUL, South Korea — Chung Kwang-yong choked up in describing how much he missed Park Geun-hye, the South Korean president, who has been cloistered in her official residence since her impeachment in December on corruption charges.

“Dear President Park Geun-hye, please come out. We miss you so much,” Mr. Chung said before a large crowd that rallied in central Seoul on a recent Saturday to demand her immediate reinstatement. “You have done nothing wrong.”

Few South Korean leaders have ever been as besieged as Ms. Park, whose presidential powers have been suspended since the National Assembly voted to impeach her on Dec. 9. Recent surveys have ranked her as one of the least popular presidents ever, with about 80 percent of respondents wanting her removed from office.

But Ms. Park still commands an almost cultlike following among people like Mr. Chung, and that lingering devotion is fragmenting the country’s conservative bloc as it struggles to find a viable replacement candidate in an election that could take place as early as May.

In South Korean elections, conservatives have usually rallied around a single presidential candidate, propelling them to victory as progressive voters split among rival opposition candidates. Now, it is the divisions in the conservative ranks that are providing the progressives with an opportunity to return to power after a decade away from the presidential palace.

In December, a group of conservative lawmakers, disillusioned by the accusations of corruption and abuse of power made against Ms. Park, joined the opposition in passing the bill to impeach her. They then bolted from her governing Saenuri Party and created the new Bareun Party.

Its approval rating plunging and desperate to rebrand itself, Saenuri changed its name Monday to the Liberty Korea Party. But it has been unable to redefine its relationship with Ms. Park.

Many conservatives, including some Liberty Korea lawmakers, want to distance themselves from Ms. Park and regroup around a new leader to have a fighting chance against the progressive opposition leader Moon Jae-in in the election.

But other party members and right-wing groups, like Mr. Chung’s Parksamo, or “People Who Love Park Geun-hye,” want Ms. Park, 65, to finish the final year of her five-year term.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, left, the acting president. He is the conservatives’ most popular potential candidate, but he has not committed to running.

These groups have organized increasingly large rallies in central Seoul in recent weeks, calling any conservative politician who turns against Ms. Park a “betrayer.” Their rallies attract not only Park loyalists but also older Koreans who share, if not their loyalty to Ms. Park, their belief that the country’s progressive opposition is too sympathetic toward North Korea to be trusted.

“I have always voted conservative and always will, as long as North Korea exists,” said Kim Myong-soo, 65, whose family fled Communist rule in the North during the Korean War. “But frankly, if an election is held now, I don’t know which conservative candidate to vote for. There is none who can win.”

To her critics, Ms. Park has come to symbolize everything wrong with the country’s conservative elite, as she stands accused of conspiring with a longtime friend to extort tens of millions of dollars from big businesses in return for political favors. Prosecutors also accuse her of ordering a government blacklisting of artists, writers and movie directors deemed progressive, blocking them from government support programs.

But according to flag-waving, military uniform-clad conservatives at the rallies, Ms. Park was an innocent victim of a “sedition” masterminded by politically biased prosecutors, a “fake-news media” and “Communists.”

Their rallies feature military parade songs and chants for Ms. Park to “mobilize the military” to regain power, an echo of how her father, the dictator Park Chung-hee, took power in a military coup in 1961. Some participants carried signs that said: “It’s O.K. to kill Commies!”

“They want to overthrow the government and establish a pro-North Korean regime,” Kim Chul-hong, a theology professor and vocal supporter of Ms. Park, said of the opposition during a news conference this month. “South Korea is now in a civil war.”

Few South Koreans believe that another military coup is possible. Mr. Chung’s Parksamo is considered by many to be little more than a personality cult and an overzealous ideological outlier. (The group recently helped pay for a large newspaper advertisement that said: “Please don’t cry, Park Geun-hye!”)

But its Red-baiting campaign, a traditional vote-gathering tool for South Korean conservatives, has intensified as the country’s Constitutional Court prepares to rule on whether to reinstate Ms. Park or formally end her presidency.

Local news media have reported that a ruling could come as early as next month, and some protesters like Mr. Chung said they would “rebel” if the court did not reinstate Ms. Park.

Yoo Seong-min, a leader of the new Bareun Party, said he expected conservatives to eventually form an alliance.

Alarmed by the conservative pushback, pro-impeachment groups have begun rebuilding their weekend rallies, which once attracted more than a million but shrank after Ms. Park’s impeachment. They urged the Constitutional Court to oust Ms. Park quickly to end the political uncertainty.

As her supporters’ rallies have grown bigger, Ms. Park has become increasingly defiant. Once tearfully apologetic about her scandal, she has recently begun claiming that she is a victim of a plot by her enemies to “frame” her with “a mountain of lies.”

“My heart aches when I think of those who come out to the streets to defend free democracy and rule of law,” she said in an interview with a right-wing podcast station late last month, referring to her supporters.

If the court decides to end Ms. Park’s presidency, it will leave the fissured conservative camp little time to regroup. By law, an election to select her successor must be held within 60 days.

Many conservatives had looked to Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations secretary general, to become their candidate. But Mr. Ban pulled out of the race this month after he failed to narrow the gap in polls with Mr. Moon, the progressive.

Highlighting the fractures among conservatives, as many as 10 politicians affiliated with the two conservative parties have declared their presidential ambitions, but none has a popularity rating higher than the low single digits.

In Myung-jin, the leader of Liberty Korea, said he favored Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is serving as acting president, as his party’s candidate. Mr. Hwang, who has no party affiliation, is the only conservative with a popularity rating of more than 10 percent, ranking third in recent surveys after Mr. Moon and a provincial governor, Ahn Hee-jung, also a progressive.

But Mr. Hwang has not committed to running yet, and critics deride his close ties to Ms. Park. Mr. Hwang also has never served in the military, an often fatal strike against men seeking the presidency in South Korea, which is technically still at war with North Korea.

Yoo Seong-min, a leader of the Bareun Party and the second-most popular conservative candidate after Mr. Hwang, said conservatives would eventually form an alliance.

“The South Korean conservatives face a crisis they had never experienced before,” said Mr. Yoo, who supported Ms. Park’s impeachment. “But once the Constitutional Court rules, conservatives will settle for the verdict, whatever it may be, and will start unifying.”


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