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South Korean President Leaves Party He Founded

  • Kurt Achin

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says he is leaving the Uri Party that he launched just four years ago. The move is part of a major political realignment taking place in South Korea as the country prepares to elect a new president later this year. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun broke the word to senior Uri Party officials at a dinner he hosted for them Thursday evening.

He personally will be leaving the party, he told them, but he urged them to keep the party alive.

Mr. Roh told party leaders the Uri Party is historically significant, and he urged them to continue work for its success.

President Roh helped form the party in 2003, after he had already won the presidency, and he led it to its high point in parliamentary elections in 2004. The party is dedicated to progressive social policies, autonomy from the United States in foreign policy, and closer engagement with North Korea.

Over the past year, however, Mr. Roh's public approval rating has plummeted. At home, many voters blame mistakes by his administration for out-of-control real estate prices.

There has been dissatisfaction with his handling of relations with Washington, and his reluctance to criticize North Korea even as Pyongyang created international concern with its tests of missiles and its development of nuclear weapons.

Jeong Chan-soo, executive director of a private political consulting firm here in Seoul, says Mr. Roh's resignation from the party was probably inevitable. He notes that the president's drop in popularity had already led more than 30 Uri members to desert the party in the past three months.

Jeong says leaving the party is the only way for Mr. Roh to halt the mass defections.

Experts say Mr. Roh's departure will gave the party the freedom to form new political alliances, in order to mount an effective challenge to the more conservative Grand National Party.

He is expected to use his new neutrality to push his idea of a constitutional amendment allowing presidents to serve two four-year terms, instead of the current single five-year term.

He is also expected to reshuffle his cabinet in the new few days. This will include naming a replacement for Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook, who has already said she plans to resign, and who is expected to pour her energies into revitalizing the Uri Party.

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