The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) decided Friday to expel corruption-tainted former President Park Geun-hye as part of reform efforts to regain public support and forge unity in the fractured conservative bloc.
The decision came about a fortnight after the LKP ethics committee agreed to recommend she voluntarily leave the party. In line with its constitution, the party can strip Park of membership 10 days after the recommendation.
"I concluded that in order to be reborn as the main party for conservatives, we cannot help but cast off the yoke of the label of the party of Park Geun-hye," LKP leader Hong Joon-pyo said while announcing the unprecedented decision to expel the former president.
"I and our LKP members will reflect thoroughly on the fact that Korean conservatives have collapsed due to the incompetence and irresponsibility of the Park government, and we pledge to people that we will be reborn as a capable, responsible party of new conservatism," he added.
Park's departure riled her loyalists within the divided party, but will strengthen LKP leader Hong Joon-pyo's hand in possible negotiations with the splinter Bareun Party for a merger.
Some Bareun members have demanded her removal as a precondition for any talks on the merger, as Hong seeks "grand right-wing unity" to bolster the party's legislative presence and rein in the increasingly assertive liberal ruling bloc.
The Bareun Party could be put on the verge of a split, as Park's exit from the LKP could encourage some of its members to defect. Any defections will deprive the minor party of its status as a parliamentary negotiating bloc that requires at least 20 lawmakers.
Park's expulsion marks a culmination of the LKP's monthslong reform endeavors to shore up public trust that crumbled after the massive influence-peddling scandal that led to her parliamentary impeachment in December and her ouster in March.
Park, who led the country from 2013-2016, is currently standing trial on bribery, abuse of power and other charges. Denying all accusations, Park has called the trial "political retribution in the name of the rule of law."
Since joining the Grand National Party, a precursor to the LKP, in 1997, Park was a pivotal member, leading the party to a series of resounding election victories.
On Friday, the LKP did not discuss the fate of Reps. Suh Chung-won and Choi Kyung-hwan, the two Park loyalists that the party has asked to leave it. Their expulsion requires consent from two-thirds of the LKP lawmakers present for a party vote.
Choi, a former deputy prime minister and finance minister, strongly opposed the decision to kick Park out of the party, saying it would lead to "collapse of the conservative bloc" in next year's election.
Hong cooly refuted the idea, saying "The buck stops here," in a rare Facebook post in English. It is a popular phrase used by late U.S. President Harry Truman who claimed ultimate responsibility for his decisions.
Meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Party upbraided the LKP for making a "long-overdue" decision to force Park out. (Yonhap News)