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Uri Party

The Uri Party (Uri-dang = Our Party) was a predecessor of the Democratic Party (DP). In 1995 Kim Dae-jung (DJ) split the opposition Democratic Party by forming the National Congress for New Politics changed to the Millenium Democratic Party in 2000. The Uri Party split away from the Millenium Democratic Party in late 2003 spurred by a left-leaning faction led by such leaders as Chong Dong-yong. Subsequently, MDP dropped "M" and became the Democratic Party.

In December 2002, President Roh Moo-hyun was elected to a single 5-year term of office. In the April 2004 elections, the Uri Party won an slim, but outright majority in the National Assembly. After by-elections in July, the ruling Uri Party maintained a plurality of 141 of 299 seats in the National Assembly. However, subsequently lost it after a handful of Uri Party assembly members were forced out of their seats by combination of political in-fighting and election fund-raising scandals. In the by-elections of April 2005, the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) won five of six seats in the National Assembly, possibly indicating a shift in public support of the opposition.

The party held its national convention on 06 July 2008. At the convention, former chairman of the now defunct Uri Party, Chng Sye-kyun, was elected party chairman. The party also changed its name from the United Democratic Party (UDP) to the Democratic Party (DP). Changes within the party were more substantive; a new collective leadership system was announced, granting leadership to a single party chairman. When the UDP was created, joining the United New Democratic Party with the old Democratic Party, leadership was shared by a representative from each party. The party hoped the move to a single chairman will unify the factionalized party. The Supreme Council was also given anointed the official decision-making organ of the party.

While Chung Dong-yong and his close allies in the Uri Party who led the split in 2003 may not be welcomed by the DP, the reality that the two progressive parties must merge in order to face off against the ever stronger main opposition, the Grand National Party (GNP), makes this the most likely scenario for party realignment. Oddly enough, the terms of the Uri-DP merger were drawn by the DP, which has less than 10 seats in the National Assembly compared to Uri's 142. This is because the DP had strong regional support in Jeolla province while Uri's popularity, tied to President Roh, is in a freefall.

The progressive Uri Party, facing rock bottom popularity with only single-digit support, suffered another major setback with the departure of Goh Kun from the presidential race on 16 January 2007. The party members must try to devise a strategy that will renew the party's popular support; and finally each member has to look for a method to position him/herself to have a chance to save his or her seat in the April 2008 parliamentary elections. In order to create a new image for the progressives not based on regionalism or associated with the current administration, the Uri Party broke up into several factions, with the goal of each faction (or new party) to unite all the groups to present one candidate from the non-GNP, progressive camp.

Former Uri Chairman Chung Dong-young (DY) and then current Uri Chairman Kim Geun-tae (GT) announced in December 2006 they would work together to form a new party that would be based on the original Uri Party tenets of clean politics and reform. Both Chung and Kim had presidential aspirations but neither had achieved broad support in any polls. Chung's top result was 6.6 percent in a Christian Broadcasting Service poll and Kim received 0.5 percent support in a January 16 Munhwa Ilbo poll and 2.7 percent rating from a Christian Broadcasting Service radio poll. Chung polled fourth in most polls (behind GNP candidates Lee Myung-bak, Park Geun-hye and Sohn Hak-kyu) and Kim polls sixth or seventh, depending on the poll, well behind the GNP hopefuls as well as non-declared candidates such as Chung Un-chan and Kang Geum-shil.

While DY and GT may succeed in reorganizing the Uri Party, their past association with the Uri Party and President Roh made it difficult to present themselves as viable candidates for the future or for any party they lead to develop legitimacy. According to Chung's advisors, despite his past with Roh, Chung, with his broadcaster background and smooth speaking style, would be able to persuade voters he had the best vision for Korea's future. Kim Geun-tae supporters say Kim had a vast network of committed voters from his time as leader of the democracy movement that, when mobilized, could be a force in the elections.

The reform group in the Uri Party required a new face to distinguish them from the current Uri Party. Seoul National University Professor Chung Un-chan, NGO leader Park Won-soon, and former Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae are among the names that are mentioned by those in the reform camp as possible candidates to lead the party. While unlikely, the progressives would welcome reform-minded GNP candidates Sohn Hak-kyu or Won Hee-ryong to join them as candidates. A new party had to form to make this a possibility for either Sohn or Won. Even then, pundits agree a defection by either GNP candidate, while clearly helpful to the progressives, would be politically risky for Sohn and Won, who many believe are already aiming for the next campaign in 2012. However, Won and Sohn's advisors told poloff that if the GNP did not turn its back on extreme conservatism and the overall political circumstances became favorable, they were prepared to leave the GNP to a new, reform-minded party.




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