South Korea's struggling ruling Saenuri party changes its name to Liberal Korea

South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party has renamed itself the Liberal Korea party in a bid to distance itself from the corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun Hye.
South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party has renamed itself the Liberal Korea party in a bid to distance itself from the corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun Hye. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - The embattled ruling party of South Korea's impeached President Park Geun Hye has picked a new name - Liberal Korea - officials said on Thursday (Feb 9), as it seeks to distance itself from a sprawling corruption scandal.

The Saenuri, or New Frontier, party was formed from a merger of several centre-right parties in 1997 and known as the Grand National Party until 2012.

Elections are due this year and a spokesman said: "We've decided to change the party name to the Liberal Korea Party with a promise to be born anew." Party leaders will meet to approve the title on Monday, he added, when it will go into effect.

South Korean political parties have a tendency to don new names to sever ties with a tainted past or to appeal to larger audiences.

Park adopted the Saenuri name in 2012 as part of an attempt to reform and regain voter support ahead of that year's general elections, which the party won.

But a swirling corruption scandal has since surrounded Park, with huge demonstrations demanding her resignation, and she was impeached by parliament last month.

The party initially favoured "Conservatives' Power Party" for a new title, as recommended by its acting leader In Myung Jin.

But the moniker met with public ridicule in the light of the scandal, one online poster commenting: "You'd better call it Money Power Party."

Other alternatives were Happy Korea and the People First Party, potentially evoking US President Donald Trump's "America First" slogan.

Saenuri's parliamentary floor leader Chung Woo Taek said there had been disputes over using the word "conservative".

"But as everyone knows we are conservative, we decided not to put the word in the party name," he said.

The various components of the Grand National Party and their predecessors ruled South Korea for decades during the country's dictatorship and afterwards, and following 10 years in opposition its candidates have won the country's last two presidential elections.

The country's Constitutional Court is currently deciding whether to uphold Park's impeachment. If it does so new elections must be held within 60 days.

In the aftermath of the scandal, one-third of Saenuri's lawmakers defected to form a splinter conservative party, relegating the group to the country's second-largest party with 95 parliamentary seats, behind the opposition Democratic Party with 121 seats.