Korean lawmaker-elect quits party over scandal

Kim Hyung-tae (L) and Moon Dae-sung (R).

Lawmaker-elect Kim Hyung-tae quit the Saenuri Party on Wednesday over a growing sexual assault scandal, leaving the ruling party with a majority of just one-seat in the incoming National Assembly.

Kim's defection came just a week after Saenuri's majority win in the April 11 general election, and as the party prepares to launch a campaign committee for presidential candidate frontrunner Park Geun-hye next month.

"I leave the party as I no longer want to be a burden on the party and emergency committee chairwoman Park Geun-hye with my unfortunate family affairs," Kim said in a press release.

Kim won his seat in the South Pohang and Ulleung Island constituency by a large margin.

"I will be sure to return to my dear party and honorable chairwoman Park after I resolve the misunderstanding and complete the legal issue," he added, confirming his intention to hold onto his lawmaker post.

Kim has faced incessant opposition calls to renounce his party membership and parliamentary seat over the allegation that he sexually assaulted the wife of his late younger brother in 2002. Kim denied the allegation and filed a defamation suit against his sister-in-law, arguing that she has been blackmailing him since 2004. Local news reports that the voice in an audio recording apologizing to the sister-in-law and her son belongs to Kim pushed him into further jeopardy.

Another scandal-ridden lawmaker-elect Moon Dae-sung, a former Olympic gold medalist in taekwondo suspected of thesis plagiarism, was widely expected to follow Kim's step and leave Saenuri. But he later met with reporters and reiterated his innocence, stating he would not be leaving the party at present.

"I will wait (for investigation results). I did not plagiarize," Moon told reporters.

Moon is suspected of having plagiarized his doctorate thesis submitted in 2007 for Kookmin University, which is currently investigating the claim. Saenuri has said it will wait until the results are out to deal with Moon.

With Kim's departure, Saenuri's number of parliamentary seats decreased to 151 in the 300-member assembly.

But letting go of its controversial lawmaker-elect will fall short of controlling the damage, observers said.

"The Kim and Moon cases may just be the tip of the iceberg. The ultimate problem lies with the hasty nomination process for the elections," said Myongji University politics Professor Kim Hyung-joon.

"If the party wishes to maintain its sincere image of reform, the ruling party should consider additional options such as the chairwoman apologizing for the nomination-gone-awry, and addressing the issue of ethics at the National Assembly," Kim said.

"There must be fundamental improvement in the current nomination process that is done around the party's boss. We must consider systems like open primaries of the United States where the voters are given the right to nominate," he added.

The problematic nomination process had been a source of controversy at both the ruling and opposition parties throughout the parliamentary race.

Senior Saenuri members who were excluded from the nomination lambasted the party's choice of candidates, with some bolting from the party to run as independents.

The main opposition Democratic United Party's nomination process was also put under scrutiny over the revelation of past vulgar comments made by its nominee Kim Yong-min, who later lost in Nowon-gu, Seoul.

Opposition parties, in the meantime, called on both Kim and Moon to drop out of the assembly and for the Saenuri leadership to apologize.

"Saenuri must take responsibility for nominating a sex offender to win the election," said Democratic United Party supreme councilor Namyoon In-soon.

DUP Spokesman Park Yong-jin said, "If Chairwoman Park wishes to become president, she must abandon her treacherous attitude and take responsibility openly and directly."

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