[OUTLOOK]Waiting for the Noh backlash?

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[OUTLOOK]Waiting for the Noh backlash?

Noh Mu-hyun's strong run at the ruling Millennium Democratic Party primary has taken everyone by surprise. In some polls, he has scored higher than Lee Hoi-chang, the opposition Grand National Party leader.

There could be several explanations for why Mr. Noh is making such a strong showing. First of all was the decline of the earlier sentiment within the party that Rhee In-je should be named the presidential candidate.

A new train of thought emerged saying that Rhee In-je could not beat Lee Hoi-chang because antipathy for Rhee is strong among voters in the Gyeongsang provinces.

Ultimately, the Gyeongsang provinces hold the key to the elections, and discussions about a shakeup in the present political party structure also focused on a presidential candidate from the Gyeongsang provinces. A candidate from there who would be supported by voters of both the Gyeongsang and the Jeolla provinces was seen as the key to victory.

So Mr. Rhee would have to be marginalized by forming a new party to champion such a candidate. That was the gist of an idea of Kim Yoon-hwan, the leader of the splinter Democratic People's Party. Representative Park Geun-hye's resignation from the GNP may be related to that plan, and the turmoil now shaking the GNP leadership can also be understood in the same context.

If Mr. Noh wins the primary, that would make him the Gyeongsang candidate: a Gyeongsang province native representing the MDP. But Mr. Noh is not the candidate desired by Mr. Kim, nor is he interested in helping the MDP win the election. The rationale for forming new parties would disappear, and Mr. Kim's scheme would be back to square one.

On the other hand, Mr. Noh himself says political reform is on his mind.

"I would renovate Korean politics," he said.

"How?"

"Dissolve the GNP's antipathy toward the Jeolla provinces."

He said he could do that because he is a son of Gyeongsang.

"What would become of the United Liberal Democrats?"

"A policy platform should be considered the most important part of political reform. Whether the ULD is involved or not is not important in that context."

"Then if party realignments result in a new party, the new party's presidential candidate should be chosen all over again?"

"I could give up my vested rights."

In other words, he said he would throw out the results of the primary elections if required for political cause. He seems to be looking over his shoulder at Representative Park, Park Chung Hee's daughter, who is said to be a strong presidential candidate. His aims seem clear. Confident that he could win a contest with Ms. Park for the nomination, he wants to block the emergence of other Gyeongsang candidates who might consider running as an independent candidate.

"I am not interested in the situation in the ruling party, regardless of what Mr. Noh says," retorted Ms. Park, which could mean that she had not expected Mr. Noh's strong showing in the primary.

Kim Yoon-hwan refused to comment.

Grand National Party members are perplexed over the primary results.

"Mr. Noh would gain some votes in Gyeongsang province that would otherwise go to the GNP," said Representative Maeng Hyung-kyu, a Grand National. Representative Ko Heung-kil agrees. He believes Mr. Rhee would be an easier rival.

There are other thoughts.

"Mr. Noh has many weaknesses," said Choe Byung-yul, the vice president of the GNP, adding that he has not been tested politically.

Noh Mu-hyun's campaign is a challenge to existing political leadership that stresses educational background, a professional degree and political leadership of a region. Mr. Noh acknowledges that he is staging such a challenge in an attempt to undercut Rhee In-je's base of support.

If Mr. Noh is only the beneficiary of anti-Rhee In-je sentiment, his fame may be fleeting. Conservatives oppose this challenge to the established way of doing things and are biding their time. But in time, they will strike.


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The writer is a political reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Youn-hong

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