Maverick lawmaker Ahn to form new party in March

JEJU/SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- Popular independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo said Tuesday he will launch a new political party in March to field candidates in the nationwide local elections in June.

The new party is widely expected to pose a serious challenge to the ruling and main opposition parties amid growing public disenchantment with the political establishment.

"I am informing you of my decision to create a new party after confirming once again that I was right about my conclusion that a new political force must come forth," Ahn said during a meeting with reporters on the southern resort island of Jeju.

"Instead of extremism and dogmatism, the new political party will become a political space for diverse people to come together and take the path of unity, which has been neglected by the political establishment."

Ahn and his aides will first launch a committee next month to prepare for the party's establishment in March, and then field candidates for all 17 local government chief seats to be contested in the June elections, said Yoon Yeo-joon, chairman of a separate committee that has been handling preparations for the new party.

Ahn, the founder of South Korea's largest antivirus software firm AhnLab, has long been a focus of media attention due to his immense popularity among young and liberal voters ahead of the December 2012 presidential election.

He ran as an independent before dropping out of the race to boost the chances of then opposition candidate Moon Jae-in.

In April, he was elected to parliament in a by-election.

His announcement was met with skepticism from both ruling and opposition camps.

"If the new party is able to give people hope for a sound alternative force, then it should definitely be welcomed, and the Saenuri Party welcomes the judgment of the people through sound competition with policies," ruling party spokesman Yoo Il-ho said in a press briefing.

However, he questioned Ahn's ability to truly demonstrate a new style of politics, citing the lawmaker's recent remarks indicating that he expects the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) to make a concession to him in return for his withdrawal from the presidential election and the Seoul mayoral election before that.

The DP said the announcement was long anticipated.

"The people will pay close attention to how Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo harmonizes political ideals with real politics," DP spokesman Park Kwang-on said in a separate press briefing.

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