[Viewpoint]Maintaining the GNP limelightThe Grand National Party is calling for unity among its members after closing the party primary. It is right to do so. However, will that be enough? If the GNP really wants an election victory, it must show people an innovative attitude as well as unity.
If it emphasizes only internal unity without innovation, the party will not be able to break free of its old practices. If it stresses only innovation without unity, the party will stand at a crossroads of division. Therefore, although it may be hard for the party and its presidential candidate, they must chase two rabbits, unity and innovation, at the same time.
The approval rating of the party may temporarily rebound following the party primary. But with the passage of time, it will begin a downward curve after a short period of stagnation. There are three reasons for this.
First, the primary elections of the pro-government parties will start soon. The sky-high approval ratings enjoyed by the GNP and Lee Myung-bak are like a stock market bubble because opinion polls were carried out in the absence of fixed rival candidates.
From now on, the pro-government parties will hold colorful primary events every weekend, and the attention of the press and the people will be on them.
Second, the pro-government party candidates will continue to launch legal offensives against Lee during their primaries. There is no way of knowing the results, but one thing for sure is that Lee’s approval rating will fluctuate.
Third, if the second round of the South-North summit meeting takes place as scheduled, the presidential candidate of the pro-government parties will be confirmed at around the same time. The public’s attention will be focused on pro-government parties and their presidential candidates.
In order to prevent its approval rating from falling, the GNP has to continuously unfold events that touch the hearts of the people, and the essence of these events should be self-sacrificing reform.
According to surveys on the ideological tendencies of the Korean people (there can be small fluctuations depending on when the survey takes place), 30 percent of Koreans are conservative, 40 percent are moderate and 30 percent are progressives.
Based on this, it can be said that the upcoming presidential election will be a fight that depends on whether the conservatives or the progressives take more moderate votes.
Judging from the present state of the GNP, it is difficult to expect the party to win enough support from the moderates.
The current high approval ratings of the GNP and Lee are largely a reaction to the misrule of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
The party should keep in mind that if pro-government forces realign their frontline and elect a fresh unified candidate, moderates can change their minds at any time.
Therefore, the GNP must first provide a self-reform program. The essence of the program should be a drastic personnel reshuffling. New, talented people must be found from outside the party, and older generation figures must step down or withdraw to the rear.
It must also include a bold restructuring of existing public pledges and policies, which are riddled with problems. If necessary, it should be willing to even change its name.
The first step in all of this is that people around Lee should promise to discard all their vested interests. Park Geun-hye, who lost in the primary, announced that she would serve the party as an ordinary member, but it should have been those around Lee who made such an announcement.
They should learn a lesson from the precedent of close aides of former President Kim Dae-jung, who pledged to discard their vested interests when Kim ran for the presidency for the third time.
The schedule of the GNP’s self-reform should be set for mid-October, and reform should be promoted in a steady and orderly manner.
As was mentioned earlier, this October is going to be an extremely busy month for Korean politics. There is no future for a party that sits idle with folded arms in a month like that.
The content of the GNP’s self-reform is important, but the timing is no less crucial.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng daily staff.
by Kim Il-young