(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 21)

Lee Nak-yon, former co-chairman of the merged Reform Party, Tuesday convened a press conference and said he would be leaving the Reform Party, just 11 days after the merger announcement. "I will return to the Saemirae Party, and reorganize the party into campaign mode," said Lee Nak-yon. He apologized to his supporters but said the "intent of the merger was threatened, the democratic spirit was damaged as the agreement was broken." He vowed to deter the ruling People Power Party (PPP) from obtaining the majority in the 300-seat National Assembly in the April 10 general elections. In contrast to his typically verbose style, Lee Jun-seok held a brief press conference shortly after, stating simply, "There is a lot I need to self-review." He emphasized that the Reform Party will prioritize its work with quality policies and a clear message. Doubts lingered when Lee Nak-yon, 72, former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and five-term lawmaker, and Lee Jun-seok, 38, former PPP chairman , assumed co-chairmanship of the merged Reform Party. The "big tent" had other minor parties in it, all liberal-leaning ones, creating an apparent imbalance between the conservative and the liberal forces. The younger Lee also had staunch support of mostly men in their 20s and 30s who resisted the broad inclusiveness the big tent party sought. But the two Lees, having largely involuntarily left their former parties, were trusted to possess the political acumen to see the Korean voters' need for an alternative. The Reform Party had declared its intention to overcome the detrimental effects of the two-party-led political landscape, which has largely been in place since 1987. Everything changed on Monday. Lee Nak-yon, and Lee Jun-seok, butted heads over the authority to lead the party's election campaign and policy activities. When the Supreme Council voted to entrust that authority to the Lee Jun-seok, Lee Nak-yon stormed out of the council meeting, seeing it as a violation of their initial agreement where th e 72-year-old would steer the campaign. Harsher critics however downplayed the merger as a "marriage of convenience" with the new merged party seeking to receive the 660 million won ($493, 273) from state-coffers for the party with five incumbent legislators. Han Dong-hoon, interim leader of the PPP, explicitly pointed out how the Reform Party recruited former legislator Yang Jeong-sook of the DPK at the very last minute to qualify for state, or rather taxpayer, funding. Pressed by time and the tall order of producing a coherent party platform, the leaders did agree to not create a satellite party to gain more proportional seats at the April 10 general elections, marking a fresh start. But that is the full extent of how far they got. The latest rift is a disappointment to some 20 percent of swing voters - as indicated by various recent polls - who remain undecided over which party to pick and more inclined to go for an alternative, including independents. The April 10 general election comes at a pivotal t ime, as democracy is sorely tested here just as it is across the globe and the yawning economic divide fatigues the voters. With less than 50 days to the general elections, the parties seem to all fight against something. But what exactly will these parties fight for remains still unclear. A small window remains open for those willing to present a clear vision of Korea's future before April 10. Source: Yonhap News Agency

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