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S. Korea President to Quit Ruling Party - 2003-09-29

South Korea's president says he will quit his ruling his party, amid a political split.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's decision to leave the ruling Millennium Democratic Party comes as no surprise. It was expected after his party began criticizing him during his first year in office, rather than backing his legislative agenda.

The controversial party politics reached new levels this month when some 37 lawmakers, all considered Roh allies, broke away from the ruling party to form their own.

Presidential Spokesman Yoon Tai-young says Mr. Roh made the decision to better focus on affairs of government and not become embroiled in party politics ahead of April's parliamentary elections.

The spokesman says the president has not indicated whether he will join the breakaway group, tentatively named the People's Participatory United New Party.

The Millennium Democratic Party has found itself embroiled in feuds and internal debates since Mr. Roh was elected president in December.

The party appears split between those loyal to Mr. Roh and those tied to his predecessor, Nobel laureate and party founder Kim Dae-jung.

Former president Kim's last days in office were plagued by scandals surrounding his family and co-workers, and the party is concerned about cleaning up its image before the elections.

Professor Im Hyung-baeg of Korea University said Mr. Roh's departure from the Millennium Democratic Party means, for the first time, South Korea has no legal ruling party.

"There has never been a president [who] decide[d] not to associate with any political party," he said. "It is the first political experiment for President Roh Moo-hyun. He [has] tried to build a non-partisan coalition to pass his major legislative agendas in this session. That is why his decision is inescapable or unavoidable."

Despite putting presidents into office twice in a row, the Millennium Democratic Party has never held a majority in the National Assembly. The 149-seat majority belongs to the conservative Grand National Party.

Mr. Roh's popularity in public opinion polls has been sagging. He has also suffered two recent setbacks in the Parliament, which rejected his nomination for Audit and Inspection Board chairman and approved a no-confidence motion against his home minister.