[NOTEBOOK]Who will be the runner-up?Several pending issues are expected to change the political scene dramatically. The probe into illegal presidential campaign funds and the independent counsel investigation of the corruption of the president’s entourage will affect the future of political parties and politicians. The national referendum on President Roh Moo-hyun’s leadership and the constitutional revision for a decentralized presidential system are also factors that would change the political climate. No matter how chaotic society might be, and no matter how the economy is declining, politicians are desperate about these issues, and they have good reason. Mr. Roh and every political party consider the outcome of the National Assembly elections on April 17 to be directly related to their political careers and survival.
Can the Grand National Party maintain its majority? Currently, the party holds 149 seats in the Assembly, 12 seats more than the 137 required for a majority. In the last election, the party won 133 seats, but several United Liberal Democrats, Millennium Democratic Party members and independent lawmakers joined the opposition party in the course of the presidential election campaign. Grand National Party executives and lawmakers admit that the party probably cannot retain enough seats to be a majority. But they are confident that the Grand National Party will remain the largest in the Assembly. Other parties will say in public they would be the largest party, but they all agree on the dominance of the Grand National Party in private.
But this scenario works only assuming that the Grand National Party can rescue itself from the campaign fund scandal, successfully accomplish political reform, and reshuffle its leadership. If any one of these conditions is not satisfied, or if the party is split in the process, the Grand National Party might have to yield some seats from its stronghold Gyeongsang region to independents and to Our Open Party. Once pushed to second place, the Grand National Party would face a big chance of a breakup. In any case, the most probable scenario at the moment is that the Grand National Party would remain the largest but lose its majority.
So attention is focused on who will be the second-largest party in the Assembly. That party will play a big role in determining the direction of our politics in the future.
Let’s assume that Our Open Party wins the second largest number of seats. That would mean that the party would have to double its current 46 seats and be represented in districts nationwide. Because the party now has no real regional base, it not only has to secure as many seats as possible in the capital region and the Chungcheong provinces but also win some seats from Jeolla and Gyeongsang regions. When it is certain that the Grand National Party would not appeal in the Jeolla region and the Millennium Democratic Party would not attract votes in the Gyeongsang region, the ruling party could justify itself as a national party, free from regional antagonisms, and take the helm of the political scene. Especially if it wins enough seats to be a threat to the largest party, the presence of the young party would be enhanced. Absorbing the members of the Millennium Democratic Party would be easier, since they originally shared the same roots, and the independents would be more attracted to the ruling party. If this happens, we might see an unprecedented confrontation of liberals and conservatives.
If the Millennium Democratic Party is to be the second largest party, it has to win all 29 seats representing the Jeolla region and get nearly half of the 97 seats from Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi province. If the Millennium Democratic Party becomes the second largest party, it would mean that the voters have not bought the political line of Our Open Party and Mr. Roh. In this case, the Millennium Democratic Party and Our Open Party might try to combine or to collaborate, but the Millennium Democratic Party could take the initiative. The Millennium Democratic Party might push for a responsible prime minister system and even have the ruling party appoint a prime minister from the Millennium Democratic Party.
Naturally, the Grand National Party would not remain idle while the two other parties collaborate.
We cannot exclude the possibility of the majority Grand National Party collaborating with the Millennium Democratic Party, the United Liberal Democrats or even Our Open Party. But the partner is likely to be the third largest party or a smaller one.
No matter which party becomes the second largest, it would try to challenge the majority party for the leading role instead of being dependent on the Grand National Party for leadership.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Doo-woo