[Viewpoint]The enemy withinA much-anticipated crisis finally threatens Lee Myung-bak, the Grand National Party’s presidential candidate. With an approval rating above 50 percent, he has enjoyed a clear field without rival candidates that seem to have any chance of beating him in the race for president.
Trouble is now coming, however, both inside and outside of the party. The hopes that opponents have for “one big blow” against the Grand National Party are rising with the expected return to Korea of Kim Gyeong-jun, once Lee’s business partner and the protagonist of a scandal involving the defunct asset management firm BBK. He is expected to be repatriated from the United States soon to face investigation here. Rumors are also rife that the former chairman of the Grand National Party Lee Hoi-chang,will run for president as an independent.
The presidential race is a zero-sum game. The people who lag behind have no choice but to attempt whatever methods they have available ― such as uniting with other candidates or by launching a negative campaign against the front-runner.
There have been four presidential elections held since democratization in 1987. Not once has a single candidate dominated unchallenged throughout the race. For all of his early advantage, candidate Lee’s camp neglected to take sufficient precautionary measures against such a crisis.
Candidate Lee has two weaknesses. Although he dreamed of becoming the president, he did not properly manage the matters related to his personal properties and relationships with people who once worked with him. In addition, he has not allowed himself to be put on the cruel stage of verification.
This is where the liberal party circle is focusing its attack on Lee. Hi s real crisis, however, has occurred because of his negligence in leaving the party’s internal weaknesses unattended.
During the Grand National Party’s primary election, Lee Myung-bak beat Park Geun-hye by getting more support in the public opinion poll, but he failed to win united support from the party’s members.
Despite that potential weakness, he did not spend much effort embracing Park and courting her followers after the primary.
Perhaps it was due to overconfidence, thinking he could win without Park’s help. Or perhaps it was out of his desire to prevent Park and her followers from consolidating their power in the party; he probably wanted the chance to put the party under his monopolistic rule.
Perhaps he was nervous about bringing Park along because her power had grown too large. Lee Hoi-chang is cutting into that gap now.
The public opinion poll that awarded Lee Myung-bak a primary victory has now become a dagger pointing at his throat. The approval rate for “non-affiliated” Lee Hoi-chang is almost 20 percent, higher than the approval rate for Chung Dong-young of the Unified New Democratic Party. In a recent survey, the approval rate for Lee Myung-bak was seen falling from the 55 to 50-percent range to the 43 to 38-percent range. Many of Lee Hoi-chang’s supporters are people who supported Park at the Grand National Party’s primary election. What would happen if the votes of liberal party supporters were concentrated with a consolidated candidate from the ruling party’s circle? The results of the presidential election would be hard to predict. Furthermore, since Lee Hoi-chang’s supporters may be eyeing the possibility that he will become the substitute candidate of the conservatives in case Lee Myung-bak forfeits his run, they probably will not give up easily.
Ironically, the only person who can defend Lee Myung-bak is Park. She can change the dynamics if she steps forward and proclaims that Lee Hoi-chang’s candidacy is an unjustifiable action that goes against the ardent wishes of the people for regime change.
Park’s support will also work as a strong shield against the “one big blow” anticipated by the ruling party circle. However, it does not appear that Park Geun-hye will step forward willingly.
The two GNP contenders met after the primary election, but the reaction of the people surrounding Park after the meeting was that they could not understand the reason why they asked for the meeting.
They added, “They were stingy about giving [us] positions in the Supreme Council, and they appointed our people to posts that had no real substance when they launched the party’s election campaign. There was proof here and there that they tried to win our people over to their side through conciliation.” Moreover, such remarks from candidate Lee’s camp calling people belonging to Park’s side as “people who should self-reflect.” Lee’s camp criticized them with sarcasm, saying, “They say they accept the primary election results, but have no willingness to help,” adding fuel to the fire. This is why Park said to the people close to her, “Please, survive until the end.” She appealed to journalists, “Is it a crime that they helped me during the primary election?”
In politics, there are always rivals and they should coexist. Driving out all competitors and monopolizing power is only possible under a dictatorship. Former Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung hated each other, but acted jointly in response to external threats.
They knew instinctively that internal enemies were more dangerous. The 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party concluded recently had also adopted leadership by checks and balances. There can be backdoor deals or a division of shares among those who hold power, but there can also be a politics of embracing competitors or of compromise, depending on the circumstances.
Candidate Lee may have to put a lot more effort in wooing former Chairwoman Park in the future than he did when he went to pay respects at the late President Park Chung Hee’s grave on Oct. 26, the anniversary of his tragic death. It is difficult to prevent a crisis even with a shovel when it could have been done with a weeding hoe. If former Chairwoman Park sides with the current crisis, its destructive power will grow bigger. The crisis has not yet crested. It has only started. This is why politics by subtraction is dangerous.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo