[OUTLOOK]A champion from the southeast?

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[OUTLOOK]A champion from the southeast?

The story takes place in a house in Sangdo-dong on Oct. 6. Former President Kim Young-sam is talking to former Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung.

"Would you be interested in becoming the president of the United Liberal Democrats?" he asks. Hints that some members of the Grand National Party might join the ULD are also given.

Mr. Lee tentatively refuses. He must discuss the matter with Kim Jong-pil, the current president of the ULD, who has in the past stepped aside to let another person take the job of party president while he pulled the strings from the post of honorary chairman of the party.

Mr. Lee goes straight to the ULD leader, who is of the same mind as the former president. Talks proceed with due speed and finally it is as good as decided that Lee will become the party leader.

But things fall apart the next day. It seems there is a problem with the timing of the GNP members' defection to the ULD; the latter party's convention will be held in just a few days' time. The two Kims meet in the middle of the night, but they cannot find a quick solution. "I'll be leader for now. Let's see what we can do about it later," Kim Jong-pil tells Mr. Lee after talking with the former president.

Mr. Lee was asked to verify this account.

"There was a lot of talk about who would be leader of the United Liberal Democrats. As a member of the Democratic National Party, I lacked legitimacy. Maybe if the Democratic National Party and the ULD had merged..." he said.

That would have been out of the question at the time, because Kim Yoon-hwan, the Democratic National Party leader, had other plans for a political alliance or party merger. You cannot go against the tide, no matter how much of a hurry you're in.

The possibility of a "Yeongnam candidate" - a candidate from Korea's southeast provinces - is the biggest issue in the rush toward the presidential election.

But any Yeongnam candidate must be acceptable to the Honam - Jeolla provinces - political faction, so that he can reap votes from both areas. That is the only way, the thinking goes, to beat Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party. The aim of political realignment is also important in this thinking.

Former Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung looks good. He is from Yeongnam and also causes the least allergic reaction from the Jeolla politicians now in power. Kim Yoon-hwan, the MDP leader, once commented that even Kim Dae-jung loyalists would look favorably on a Lee candidacy. But that does not mean anything is decided. Lee Hoi-chang, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil are scheduled to meet each other and nobody knows what the two Kims will think after those meetings.

Another possible Yeongnam candidate is emerging, Park Keun-hae, vice president of the Grand National Party. The daughter of former President Park Chung Hee seems to be promoting her own plan in her party. She has declared her candidacy for the presidential nomination, and she is making demands on the party president. She wants to reform the party rules to guarantee fair competition.

"Under the current rules, one-third of the delegates at the party convention are appointed by the party leader. This rule should be revised. If this issue is shoved under the carpet, I won't participate in the party's work," she told me recently.

"What will you do if your proposal isn't accepted fully?" I asked.

"I will have to reconsider my course of action as this party will have shown itself to have given up being democratic," she replied.

Ms. Park, surprisingly, said she opposed the idea of a Yeongnam candidate. It's a product of conflict, she said, and now is a time for reconciliation.

But again, who knows what she is really thinking?

The former prime minister also says harmony is essential. The two also agree in their evaluation of the Grand National Party leader, Lee Hoi-chang, saying he is anything but harmonious.

Therefore, Ms. Park insists, there is little reason to help him. For Lee Soo-sung, there are many reasons to oppose him. That does not mean Mr. Lee has Blue House fever; he says he is in no hurry.

Ms. Park also does not seem to be aiming at the presidency, at least for now. The idea of a Yeongnam candidate was born out of a quest for harmony, but harmony is not found only in such a candidate. In the end, it's the peoples' decision - and keep in mind that, in all the furor, the people of Yeongnam seem indifferent to the political maneuvering going on around them.


The writer is a staff writer on political affairs of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Youn-hong

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