[OUTLOOK]The battle for votes in provinces

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[OUTLOOK]The battle for votes in provinces

Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye presented New Millennium Democratic Party Chairman Hahn Hwa-kap with two thornback fish as a Lunar New Year gift. It is quite an unusual gift to congratulate his inauguration. The famous thornback fish of South Jeolla province is caught in the neighboring waters of Heuksan island. It would make sense for the Millennium Democratic Party to present the Grand National Party with a thornback. It is only confusing because the Grand National Party, to the contrary, presents the Millennium Democratic Party something from the latter’s own backyard as a gift. It is like giving candy to someone who owns a candy store.
As a reporter covering political news in the mid-1980s, I had chances to taste some raw thornbacks quite often because I visited the home of then opposition leader and former President Kim Dae-jung in Donggyo-dong regularly. There were a lot of fake thornbacks then, but those delivered straight from Mokpo for “Master Kim” ― the pet name Jeolla people use for Kim Dae-jung ― must have been the best of the real things. “Donggyo-dong people” endlessly praised thornback fish.
Former President Kim Dae-jung and his entourage who were known as “Donggyo-dong people” especially liked to taste “three combo” ― a piece of raw thornback with pork and kimchi ― drinking traditional Korean rice wine, makkoli, with it.
Upon receiving the unexpected gift, Millennium Democratic Party officials appeared very happy saying, “A thornback is the symbolic fish of the Millennium Democratic Party.” A spokesperson for the party, Jang Jeon-hyung commented, “Chairwoman Park’s gift will be accepted as a token of wishing for the ‘three combo’ of regional integration, political harmony and people’s unity.”
It was rather a grand reaction for a thornback fish gift to get. The Millennium Democratic Party members tasted the fish at a dinner for party executives on the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday. Chairwoman Park’s sharp insight that enabled her to catch the heart of the Millennium Democratic Party members is quite unusual.
There was a debate on how to overcome the regional label of a “Yeongnam party,” or a Gyeongsang province party, at a training session of the Grand National Party which was held for two days last week. There was a collision between those who said that the party had to get rid of the regional label of Yeongnam and those who advocated a pro-Yeongnam view. The former said, “We must break the shackles of the Yeongnam clique. We should not stay idle enjoying the reflective profits of regionalism.” The latter insisted, “The party owes a lot to the Yeongnam provinces. Why are you trying to rock the basis of our party?” It would be ideal if there were a scheme with which we could catch both the domestic rabbit and the wild rabbit at the same time, but this is just not possible. If we get too attached to the domestic rabbit the wild rabbit will run far away, and if we go after the wild rabbit, the domestic rabbit will run away too. This is the greatest dilemma of the Grand National Party.
In the legislative election in April last year, the Grand National Party could elect only seven candidates in 31 electoral districts of the Jeolla provinces. This was probably due to Honam people’s unfavorable sentiment toward the party, but this is nevertheless an embarrassing thing for a major party that is vying to be the largest or the second largest in the National Assembly. They showed no will let alone sincerity. As a result, the candidates who ran with the party’s ticket at electoral districts in Jeolla provinces had under 1 percent support, and the party itself gained only 2 to 3 per cent. They say Honam is wavering now, but the support rate for the Grand National Party is not changing. The seeds of deeply-rooted antipathy toward the party still remains, and there has been no effort to make things right.
The Grand National Party still believes in the “Chungcheong determinist theory” that the battle between the votes of Yeongnam and Honam areas is decided in the end by the votes of the Chungcheong provinces. Blinded by the idea of gaining more votes in the Chungcheong provinces, the party had passed the law that allowed the transfer of the capital and the party had to be ashamed of the decision later. But it still takes a questionable attitude toward the governing party’s plan to create an administrative city in South Chungcheong province. Perhaps it would be worth it if it could actually gain more votes in the Chungcheong provinces, but this is highly unlikely. The Uri Party has already occupied the issues related to the Chuncheong provinces. The Grand National Party can’t overtake the Uri Party if it is dragged by pending issues as it is now.
The party’s advance into the area west of Mount Jiri is more urgent. It must set out a big stride for opening a route to the west now.
The superb combination of “Honam party with a Yeongnam candidate” that led President Roh Moo-hyun to victory at the last election can be a good lesson for the Grand National Party. Of course, President Roh owed a lot to the revolt of the Internet generation, an unforeseen contribution to his election victory, but the strength of the basic arithmetic of adding two regions together cannot be ignored either. The strategy killed two birds with one stone, gaining both the cause for resolving regionalism and the profit of getting more votes. Though not necessarily in the same form of combination, the Grand National Party needs a change in the way of thinking so that it can break the Yeongnam shell.
The Millennium Democratic Party, which is the original party of the Honam region, announced that it would not unite with the Uri Party. This decision partly implies that the Honam region is disappointed in President Roh. This is a great chance indeed for the Grand National Party. If only the Grand Nationals win the hearts of the Millennium Democratic Party members, it would be like getting the support of hundreds of thousands of troops. This would go well with the justification of dissipating regional bias, and, needless to say, its mathematical effect on the presidential election will be far reaching. The problem is that the political weight of the Millennium Democratic Party has gone up since the Uri Party has confronted a crisis of losing the majority in the Assembly. It is time for the Grand National Party, therefore, to consider making extraordinary betting seriously.
The two thornbacks presented by Chairwoman Park. I wonder how much the shooting taste stimulated the appetite of the Millennium Democratic Party members.

* The writer is the chief of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin
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