South Korea – Opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Splits?

Former presidential candidate Representative Ahn Cheol-soo announced his departure from the NPAD on Sunday, December 13, 2015, ending a troubled relationship with the opposition alliance that he co-chaired when it was officially launched in April 2014. The NPAD has had its share of problems, failing to fill the role as a viable opposition expected by members and supporters. Still, Ahn’s departure is a significant blow: it bares open the fractures within the alliance that the leadership has ineffectually tried to reconcile. Meanwhile, with about four months till the general elections in April 2016, the fragmented opposition is likely to hand the electoral advantage to the ruling Saenuri Party, as the following account shows.

The first signs of trouble in the opposition alliance surfaced soon after its founding, on the issue of party-nomination reforms which the NPAD had pledged to observe for the June 2014 by-elections. Closed-door party-nominations have been blamed for feeding corruption, public disapprobation, and distrust; consequently, the NPAD’s initial resolve on reforming the process promised to bring “new” politics to challenge the predominant politicking-as-usual. However, while the NPAD pushed hard for the reform, the Saenuri party maintained the party-nomination process, which advantaged its party candidates. In the face of the growing disadvantage, NPAD members challenged the reform while old-timers such as Gwangju mayor Kang Un-tae and party spokesperson Representative Lee Yong-sup quit the party. In response to the open rift, voters handed the by-elections to the Saenuri Party, giving the party 11 seats but only four to the NPAD. 20 NPAD party leaders, including co-chairs Ahn and Kim, resigned from their leadership posts to take responsibility for the trouncing and a major leadership change was underway.[1]

The leadership change seemed completed at the party convention in February 2015, with 2012 opposition presidential candidate Rep Moon Jae-in installed at the helm. At the same time, however, the contest laid bare the three major factions in the alliance: (1) Moon, who leads the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction that comprise supporters of the deceased former president; (2) Rep Park Jie-won, a leader of the pro-Kim Dae-jung faction that comprise supporters of the former president and Nobel-peace prize winner; and (3) Rep Lee In-young, a leader of the 486 faction that comprises former student activists and protestors of the authoritarian regime. Moon’s successful election did little to stem the party infighting. As a result, notwithstanding poor approvals for the president and the ruling party, the NPAD managed to snatch defeat from sure victory (again), losing all four seats in liberal strongholds in the April 29, 2015 by-elections, with three going to Saenuri and one to NPAD-turned-independent candidate, Chun Jung-bae.[2]

Since the 2015 by-election routing, the NPAD has openly feuded over responsibilities for the results. Ahn is not the first to bolt the party following the rising hostilities in the party, but his standing in the party is likely to induce others to follow suit. Thus, Ahn’s confidant and chief-of-staff, Rep. Moon Byung-ho, is expected to announce his departure by mid-December, and Moon predicts between 20 and 30 current NPAD members will join Ahn to create a new party. If Ahn and his allies manage to pool at least 20 seats in the legislature, Assembly rules means that it will be entitled to government subsidies and other parliamentary privileges.


[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea in 2014: A Tragedy Reveals the Country’s Weaknesses.” Asian Survey vol 55 no 1: 132-141

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea – Will the Opposition be a Viable Challenge in the 2016 Elections?”



2 thoughts on “South Korea – Opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Splits?

  1. JD

    “However, while the NPAD pushed hard for the reform, the Saenuri party maintained the party-nomination process, which advantaged its party candidates.”
    Could you please clarify this sentence? Do I understand correctly that legislation was proposed to require parties to have open primaries, but was defeated as a result of Saenuri’s opposition? What is the ‘party nomination’ process? And who exactly is advantaged by it? I’m not sure what you mean by ‘party candidates’.

    1. Fiona Yap Post author

      Dear JD,

      Thanks for your query. Party nominations occur when the party selects candidates for local elections. Party nominations in South Korea have been blamed for feeding corruption, with lawmakers using their positions to dole out nominations for bribes. Public disapproval of party nominations is clear, so that a bi-partisan pledge was made during the presidential elections 2012 to explicitly ban party nomination so that those running for local elections will hold no party affiliation.

      There are at least two significant events related to party-nomination reforms:
      1) the first occurred in 2014, prior to the June by-elections. In this instance, the NPAD pushed hard for the parties to honor the bipartisan campaign pledge (see also previous blog post, During this 2014 push, Representative Ahn Cheol-soo even visited the Blue House in order to persuade President Park, but the president refused to grant him audience. Instead, notwithstanding the NPAD’s efforts, the President and the Saenuri Party backtracked and adopted a system that required candidates be selected by an “electoral college” of each constituency, with the party retaining the right to replace the candidate selected if deemed uncompetitive.
      2) the second occurred this October 2015, when the President clashed with party chair Kim Moo-sung, over his agreement with the NPAD to revise election law to include a variation of the open primary for the April elections. This is probably what you are referring to. Tensions were diffused only when Kim backed off to concede that not all nominations have to be open primaries.

      Clearly, candidates without party affiliation are disadvantaged in contests where their opponents have party affiliations, since voters who are not steeped in politics may make their choices based on parties. Banning party nomination is not the same as adopting open primaries; the latter allows all voters – not just those from the parties – can cast ballots to elect candidates for races.


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