South Korea's Opposition apologise for past corruption

"We've made a huge mistake before our people and history," said the interim chief of the People Power Party Kim Chong-in (centre). PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - South Korean conservatives made a rare apology for the corruption of their two past presidents, a landmark gesture as the opposition bloc seeks to retake the presidency in a little more than a year.

The interim chief of the main opposition People Power Party, Mr Kim Chong-in asked "for forgiveness" from voters in the act of contrition on Tuesday (Dec 15) that comes as President Moon Jae-in's progressive camp sees its support slide to the lowest levels since taking power in 2017.

But Mr Kim also risks splitting a conservative base has continued to question the allegations against its former standard-bearers.

"We've made a huge mistake before our people and history," Mr Kim told a news conference. "We didn't do our job properly as ruling party."

The conservatives are attempting to lure back swing voters who lost faith in the group after Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye - conservatives who served back-to-back as president - were imprisoned for graft.

After Park was impeached in 2016, support for conservatives plumbed new depths, setting the stage for Mr Moon to win the country's single, five-year term presidency.

The two former presidents' scandals show "the dark shadow of the back-scratching alliance between politics and businesses," Mr Kim said.

"We sincerely reflect our wrongdoings in the past and will reborn by reforming our party."

The move comes after the approval rate for Mr Moon's government hit a record low this month in a major tracking poll and opinion surveys indicate conservatives have been gathering momentum.

Public anger has mounted over high housing prices and a fight Mr Moon's government has waged against the country's top prosecutor, who has launched graft investigations into a few his top aides.

Some conservatives had wanted Mr Kim to hold off on the apology, saying it would turn off the base.

Signs of a rift come after the party's support in August exceeded that of Mr Moon's progressive Democratic Party for the first time in four years. A downturn could endanger its plans to take back the mayorships of Seoul and Busan in April and win the presidency in March 2022.

"The interim leader is splitting our party with the apology controversy," Mr Jang Je-won, a three-term conservative lawmaker, said on Facebook last week.

The apology, however, may win over swing voters turned off by the graft scandals, said political science professor Shin Yul from Myongji University in Seoul.

"Many moderate voters supported Park's impeachment, and they need to be assured that they've made a right decision," Prof Shin said. "The apology could make those in the middle to support PPP."

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