ULD facing big crisis as key member quits

By Shin Hae-in
Published March 9th 2005 in Korea Herald
The minor United Liberal Democrats yesterday suffered the biggest crisis in its 10-year history as South Chungcheong Governor Shim Dae-pyung resigned in a move that threatens not only the party's future but also could cause ripples in the key Chungcheong region's voting patterns.

"I felt the limit of the ULD in the recent moves to pass the new bill on the administrative city," said Shim in announcing his break from the party. "I am leaving the party in order to focus on building the new administrative town to achieve the goals of equal regional development for the Chungcheong Province residents."

Shim was the only member of the ULD with a key provincial leadership seat and his departure will remove much influence from the party, which holds a meager four seats in the National Assembly.

Although he has been silent on the matter, it is believed Shim will push to launch a new party built on support from Chungcheong Province voters, further threatening the ULD since it relies heavily on the electorate in that area.

More ULD members are expected to join Shim if a new party is formed because he has a strong foundation in Chungcheong Province - having been the governor three consecutive times. At the same time, the ULD as a whole has been losing popularity in the region for failing to play a role in pushing the capital relocation plan.

ULD Chairman Kim Hak-won strongly reproached Shim for an "act of betrayal" and said, "Our party has always been working harder than any other parties in achieving the goal of building a proper administrative city in Chungcheong Province. It does not make sense that he has to leave the party in order to focus on the same goal. This is why I cannot help thinking that Shim withdrew from the party to achieve his own political ambitions."

The ULD is wary of Shim possibly setting up a new party and taking away more of its parliamentary and provincial council members, because that would inevitably disband the party.

Waves of concern are also stirring in the ruling Uri Party and the main opposition Grand National Party not only because of Shim's action but also the decision yesterday of Daejeon City Mayor Yum Hong-chul to leave the GNP.

If Shim launches a new party based in Chungcheong, Uri's current majority in the area will be threatened and the GNP will encounter a major hitch in its goal of attracting support in the region before the April by-elections.

Although Yum said he will stay politically neutral after deserting the GNP, sources say it is likely he may join forces with Shim if their goals overlap.

With Uri losing face among Chungcheong residents due to the failure of the capital relocation plan, any new party around Shim appears to have a good chance of grasping firm power in the area if launched at the right time.

The ULD was inaugurated February 1995 with nine members, including former leader Kim Jong-pil.

In the 1990s, the party enjoyed its "golden era" with strong support from the Chungcheong, Daegu and North Gyeongsang provinces, about 50 seats in the Assembly, and ULD leader's collaboration with former President Kim Dae-jung.

But it has fallen on hard times since 2000 - when the collaboration with Kim Dae-jung broke off - and it became the smallest party with only four parliamentary seats in the 2004 general elections. Even former leader Kim Jong-pil had to leave politics after failing to win a proportional representation seat.