[VIEWPOINT: THE GRAND NATIONAL PARTY]Bad time to be a lame duck

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[VIEWPOINT: THE GRAND NATIONAL PARTY]Bad time to be a lame duck

Wednesday’s local elections resulted in the governing party’s crushing defeat and the Grand National Party’s overwhelming victory. This was an unprecedented result in Korean history.
In earlier campaigns as elections drew near, the people tended to support the party which appeared to be losing in the polls in order to balance the numbers of seats of different parties.
But this time, the Uri members’ low popularity in the early part of the campaign continued through until voting day, or sank even lower than the early polls showed.
The results of these elections have clearly illustrated how angry and upset the people are about the arrogance and incompetence of the President Roh Moo-hyun administration and the Uri Party.
In the last National Assembly elections, the people gave the governing party a legislative majority as a way of punishing the opposition, which had sought to impeach the president.
This time, it can be said that the people virtually impeached the administration and the governing party.
With its overwhelming victory in the elections, the Grand National Party has increased its political clout and gained a decided advantage for the general election scheduled for next year.
The people provided overwhelming support to the Grand Nationals in a bid to punish the administration and the governing party. Now, the Grand National Party needs to think seriously about how it should react to the people’s expectations.
The Grand Nationals won most of the races for big city majors, provincial governors, chiefs of smaller administrative districts and members of local councils.
They lost only in the contests to select leaders in the Jeolla provinces and Jeju.
This sweeping victory, however, cannot be seen as a good thing for the future of local autonomy. There is a chance that the Grand Nationals will dominate the local governments and councils so thoroughly that the principle of checks and balances is not applied.
The Grand National Party needs to try to understand most people’s expectations and demands, not only those of the people who strongly support the party.
The opposition party needs to embrace all sectors and people in order for local autonomy to take strong root here. Local autonomy is new in Korea; it dates only to 1995 and still must be nurtured.
The Grand National Party needs to keep carrying out reforms inside the party in order to change its image as a scandal-ridden party of old-style politicians.
This image has continued to surface in popular opinion because some senior Grand National members took bribes from people seeking the party’s nomination for heads of local governments. And recently, a senior member was accused of sexual harassment and resigned from the party.
The Grand Nationals should take stern measures in reacting to the scandals that broke out before the elections, including one incident involving sexual harassment and others involving those payments for nominations.
In the recent local elections, people chose the corrupt but competent Grand National Party, instead of the arrogant and incompetent Uri Party.
Despite the party’s victory, there are still some people who think of the Grand National Party as a corrupt party full of old members who think their privileges as politicians should be the party’s top priority.
The competence of the Grand National Party has also yet to have been proven.
We hope that the Grand National Party takes responsibility for solving pending national tasks, with the stronger say it has been granted through these elections.
Because of the crushing defeat, the president will likely be a very lame duck until his term expires in February 2008.
And the Uri Party, now crippled, will find it hard to take the lead in managing the government because it is in disarray and sharply divided internally.
Some of the tasks in the national agenda are so important, though, that we cannot leave the government adrift for the18 months in Mr. Roh’s remaining term.
The economy is showing signs of a downturn because of a strong won and high oil prices. The six-party talks are in a stalemate. The issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program needs to be resolved.
The negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United States will likely face strong protests.
I hope the Grand National Party will cooperate with the administration in efforts to handle these very important issues.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Nae-young
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