The competition among liberal contenders to win the nomination for the December presidential race is showing signs of heating up.
The race is currently dominated by two strong contenders from the conservative Grand National Party -- former Seoul mayor Lee Myung-bak and former GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye.
Lee Hae-chan, a former prime minister and a confidant of President Roh Moo-hyun, took on Sohn Hak-kyu, a former Gyeonggi governor and the top contender in the liberal group.
Uri Rep. Yoo Ki-hong, who is close to Lee, said yesterday that Sohn is not a legitimate liberal candidate since he was a longtime member of the conservative Grand National Party. Sohn quit the GNP in March, facing a slim chance of winning the GNP's nomination.
"His background (as a former GNP legislator) will never disappear," he said.
While announcing his candidacy on Tuesday, Lee, in an apparent attack on Sohn, also said, "We cannot entrust the nation to an opportunist."
Rep. Chung Bong-joo on Sohn's side said Lee targets Sohn because he has the most approval ratings. Chung also said, "We will not avoid the fact that Sohn defected from the GNP because the issue will emerge in the nomination race."
There are a pack of liberal presidential hopefuls, including Sohn, Lee, former Uri chairman Chung Dong-young and former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook. A June 18 poll by Hankook Research showed Sohn, Chung, Lee and Han with 6.6, 3.5, 2 and 1.7 percent in approval ratings, respectively. Lee got 33.5 percent, and Park garnered 24.8 percent in approval ratings.
Meanwhile, a group of 43 legislators who recently deserted the Uri Party were divided over whether to exclude the Uri Party in a proposed alliance against the GNP.
The Democratic Party and another Uri splinter group of 21 legislators called for excluding the unpopular Uri Party from the envisioned alliance. The two groups said that they plan to launch their own party on June 27 after recruiting more legislators who resigned from the Uri Party recently.
Rep. Moon Hee-sang and a group of junior legislators said that all liberal forces including the Uri Party should be in the alliance, while a group led by senior politician Chung Dae-cheol objected to bringing in the unpopular party.
Meanwhile, the splinter group is stepping up moves to align with civic groups as part of efforts to forge a sweeping liberal alliance.
Beginning this year, the Uri Party was hit by the defections of over 60 legislators, due largely to its slim chances of winning in the upcoming election. The once-ruling party and its presidential hopefuls suffer from rock bottom popularity as voters blame the Roh Moo-hyun administration for runaway home prices and slow economic growth.
Amid a backlash against the Roh government, the GNP and its presidential contenders have been enjoying overwhelming popularity.
By Jin Hyun-joo