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Park’s role in party politics

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May 12,2009
The Grand National Party’s devastating defeat in the by-elections on April 29 demonstrates how weary conservative voters are and underlines doubts about the ruling party’s irksome internal power struggle. Yet the president and party leadership have failed to come up with any viable solution to the problem.

Former party leader Park Geun-hye returned from an overseas trip yesterday, and her timing was perfect for attracting the public’s interest. She has good reason to hold a grudge against the GNP’s main faction for deepening the rift within the party, responsibility for which largely falls on President Lee Myung-bak and his supporters. They failed to make good on their promise to form an alliance with lawmakers who were loyal to Park during the 2007 presidential primary.

Park is right to say that the party’s main faction should assume responsibility for the election defeat and the party’s plummeting popularity because they were in charge of party administration and they led the campaign nomination process, largely to the exclusion of Park and her supporters. She is also justified in arguing that the party leadership is in disarray because it has failed to uphold the party reform plans she helped to shape when she chaired the party from 2004 to 2006.

In reality, Park still holds sway over the party. She is supported by around 60 lawmakers and is still mentioned as one of the most likely candidates for the next presidential election. She may not hold an executive party post, but wields more power than three or four party members combined. She has considerable clout in domestic politics whether she, or anyone else, likes it or not. She must take the lead in leaving the past behind, which could help to safeguard the conservative party’s successful governance.

In 2007, she put aside primary election strife to support Lee in a battle against formidable conservative contender Lee Hoi-chang. She was not motivated by a sudden faith in her former rival but was driven instead by an acute longing to put the conservative party back in power. She may have a significant role in seeing the party make political history this time around, too.

Talking to the press in San Francisco, Park said the beef import problem was fueled by the government’s failure to seek the public’s understanding, not by anti-American sentiment. But this is not so. The protests against U.S. beef imports may have begun as concern over public health, but later developed into full-fledged anti-American, anti-government campaigns. The question remains as to whether the incident would have become such a debacle if the beef had been imported from South America or Europe and not from the United States.

Park may not be in the GNP’s mainstream, but she certainly qualifies as a party leader. She must not disregard this important role.




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