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South Korea ruling party defectors hope U.N. chief Ban will join

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL A South Korean ruling party faction announced on Tuesday it would form a new party, and a prominent member of the defectors said they wanted outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the front-runner in some presidential polls, to join them.

The 29 lawmakers from President Park Geun-hye’s conservative Saenuri Party were among those who supported a parliamentary motion to impeach Park over an influence-peddling scandal, which was passed overwhelmingly on Dec. 9

“We are hoping Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will join the New Conservative Party for Reform, and if he joins, it will be right that he would compete in a fair primary,” Yoo Seong-min, a member of the new party and a possible presidential contender, told TV station SBS, using the new party’s tentative name.

In a Realmeter poll released on Monday, 23.3 percent of respondents supported Ban, just ahead of the liberal Democratic Party’s Moon Jae-in, at 23.1 percent.

The defections cut the number of seats held by Saenuri to fewer than 100 in the 300-member chamber.

Ban has not declared an intention to run for president, only saying he would devote himself to the country after his term ends this month.

Nevertheless, he had until recently been widely expected to run for the top job as a member of Park’s party.

However, running as a Saenuri candidate looks far less attractive given a corruption scandal, in which a friend of Park’s is accused of colluding with the president to pressure big businesses into paying money to foundations backing Park’s initiatives.

Park and the friend, Choi Soon-sil, have denied wrongdoing.

The Constitutional Court has up to 180 days to uphold or overturn the impeachment vote. Park has been stripped of her powers in the meantime.

If Park’s impeachment is upheld, a presidential election will be held in 60 days. An election is currently scheduled for Dec. 20, 2017.

The head of the People’s Party, which holds 38 seats in parliament, has also said it would welcome Ban.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)