[OUTLOOK]Wheels within wheels in politics

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[OUTLOOK]Wheels within wheels in politics

The primary elections to select a presidential candidate of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party have begun. For now, Rhee In-je, standing adviser of the ruling party, seems to be the leading contender; public opinion polls support that conclusion, and Mr. Rhee and his supporters appear to be optimistic. Let's assume that Mr. Rhee indeed wins the ruling party's primary election. Would that be the end of challenges for Mr. Rhee? In reality, the challenges to Mr. Rhee would never end.

The crucial point will be the June local elections; observers are pessimistic about the MDP's chances, and the ruling party itself concurs. It has a lock on only North and South Jeolla provinces. If it does badly, there will be lots of internal finger-pointing in the party, and Mr. Rhee will be in the thick of it. He has already said he should be named the MDP's presidential candidate before the June elections so that he can lead the campaign; this, he says, is the only way for the MDP to do well in those elections. The MDP did, in fact, decide to hold its convention to name its candidate in April, well before the elections.

If the June elections do go badly, Mr. Rhee's image will be hurt. Five years ago, he and Lee Hoi-chang, now the opposition leader, were both members of the ruling party. Mr. Rhee demanded that Mr. Lee be dropped as the party's candidate because, Mr. Rhee contended, he could not beat Kim Dae-jung. When his demand was ignored, Mr. Rhee bolted the party.

Now the shoe may be on the other foot. Kim Joong-kwon, an MDP adviser, said, "According to Mr. Rhee's logic, he must be responsible if the party does not win the provincial elections." Noh Mu-hyun, another adviser, has similar thoughts. Hahn Hwa-kap, also an adviser, went even further, saying sarcastically, "I believe our party will win. After all, Mr. Lee said we would win if he became our presidential candidate."

Mr. Rhee is in a tight spot. "If he does not agree to withdraw after a poor local election showing, the mainstream of the party may bolt the party, leaving him alone," said Kim Yoon-whan, president of the Democratic People's Party. The "mainstream" is the Donggyo-dong camp, longtime supporters of President Kim that include Kwon Roh-kap and Mr. Hahn. Mr. Hahn already suggested ousting Mr. Rhee from the party.

Lee Soo-sung, a former prime minister, quoted Kwon Roh-kap as saying Mr. Rhee would run poorly against Lee Hoi-chang, but there is apparently no better choice inside the party. Rather than playing a losing hand, could the party find another candidate ?from outside the party?

"Park Geun-hye might be aiming for it," a follower of Mr. Lee predicted. Ms. Park, a former vice president of the Grand National Party, recently left the party. That comment was based on the thinking of some MDP legislators that the party's presidential candidate must come from North or South Gyeongsang province.

If Ms. Park were to become a presidential candidate, there would be a mass restructuring of present political parties, or perhaps a new party based in the Gyeongsang region would be formed.

"I oppose a forced reorganization of political parties," Ms. Park has said. "Why would such a reorganization be forced? It would be a natural reorganization," Kim Yoon-whan of the Democratic Peoples Party said. His idea of a "forced reorganization" is one dictated by political leaders.

Well, President Kim has professed to be neutral in all this political maneuvering. There is no chance, if he is to be believed, that he will use his political muscle to reshape the party structure. Perhaps President Kim professed to be neutral in advance to make it look like a natural reorganization? Ms. Park's move in resigning from the Grand National Party supports that idea.

"I am willing to participate if there is a party that gives priority to national interests," she said loftily, but added that she was not referring to the MDP. The Grand National Party now calls Ms. Park, "a female Rhee In-je."

In other words, Ms. Park is striking a blow at Mr. Lee just like Rhee In-je did during the last presidential campaign. But now the person who is under siege is Rhee In-je himself.

What goes around comes around in politics.


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

by Lee Youn-hong

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