UPDATE : 2017.11.21 TUE 16:06
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Bareun Party picks former presidential candidate as new leader

The minor opposition Bareun Party picked its former presidential candidate, Rep. Yoo Seong-min, as its new leader on Monday in an election overshadowed by internal division, mass defections and its reduced presence in parliament.

The economist-turned-lawmaker secured 56.6 percent of the vote, beating five other contenders, including Reps. Ha Tae-kyeung, Jeong Woon-chun and Park In-sook. His election was based on the combined results of a vote by party delegates and a public opinion survey.

Ha, Jeong and Park were elected as the members of the party's decision-making Supreme Council.

Yoo Seong-min, the new leader of the minor opposition Bareun Party, speaks after winning the leadership election at the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 13, 2017. (Yonhap)

In his acceptance speech, Yoo called for internal unity and vowed to continue the party's drive for "new" conservatism.

"Let's go back to the basics and work together for new conservatism," he said. "Let us continue to strive for unity among centrists and conservatives who share our vision for the future of the country and reform."

The conservative party had been rudderless since former leader Lee Hye-hoon resigned on Sept. 7 amid a graft scandal. The scandal dealt a stinging blow to the party's push to become a reformist alternative to the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP).

Yoo's election came after eight lawmakers defected to the LKP last week in a move to unify the fractured conservative camp and better rein in increasingly assertive liberal rivals ahead of next year's local elections.

The defections stripped the Bareun Party of its status as a parliamentary negotiating bloc that requires at least 20 lawmakers of the 299-member National Assembly.

The Bareun Party was launched in January with dozens of defectors from the current main opposition party. It started with 33 lawmakers, but it now only has 12. Joo Ho-young, its floor leader, plans to leave the party soon.

The new leadership is now tasked with preventing additional defections, salvaging the party's founding principle of "new, warm and transparent" conservatism and strengthening its parliamentary foothold possibly by joining forces with middle-of-the-road politicians.

It also faces the daunting task of preparing the party for next year's mayoral and gubernatorial elections seen as a crucial referendum on President Moon Jae-in's first year in office, observers said.

The talk of a policy alliance between the Bareun Party and the People's Party has persisted, though some within the center-left party resist any tie-up, citing their different ideological roots and support bases.

Kim Jung-mi  edt@koeapost.com

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