[Outlook]The GNP’s dilemma

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[Outlook]The GNP’s dilemma

It is always about people. Issues that face the country and policies to address them have been left behind, and now the election is about people.
In less than 50 days, the country will elect a president, but there is no talk about political parties, policies, the spirit of the era or leadership. The entire country is paying attention to what just a couple of people are doing and saying.
Kim Gyeong-jun raised his hand and Lee Hoi-chang made half a step toward declaring his candidacy. That was enough to exert a heavy influence on the opinion of the general public. As the ruling party has nothing special to attract people’s attention, all are waiting for Park Geun-hye to open her mouth and cause a stir. Kim is expected to return home in around two weeks. People are anxious, waiting for him. Meanwhile, will Lee Hoi-chang run in the presidential election? If he does, how strong a candidate will he be? Will Park support Lee Myung-bak or Lee Hoi-chang? Will her decision be good news or bad news for the ruling party?
Lee Hoi-chang will reportedly decide whether he will run or not within a few days. But we can pretend he will run for president and analyze possible scenarios.
Lee Hoi-chang’s approval rating was 15.8 percent in a poll conducted by The Opinion at the request of the Munhwa Ilbo. If Lee Hoi-chang runs for office, Lee Myung-bak’s support rate will fall from 51.8 percent to 45.3 percent, the largest drop among the presidential hopefuls. The support rates for all the existing presidential candidates will drop slightly. But the major reason Lee Myung-bak has high support rates is that he won over nearly half of those loyal to the Grand National Party. If Lee Hoi-chang runs, his support will come from the same pool.
Will Lee Myung-bak’s support rate go up if he campaigns aggressively? For now, the fall of Lee Myung-bak’s support rate is more meaningful than the rise of Lee Hoi-chang’s support rate. If Lee Myun-bak’s approval ratings do not fall below 40 percent, the ruling circle will face a crisis.
There are three reasons for that. First, Lee Hoi-chang and the Grand National Party will receive the media spotlight, eclipsing the ruling party’s candidate. Second, Lee Myung-bak can appeal to centrist voters looking for an alternative to Lee Hoi-chang’s conservatism and the ruling party’s liberalism, just as Roh Moo-hyun did when he ran in the 2002 presidential election. Third, If Lee Myung-bak works for a coalition with candidates backed by the Jeolla and Chungcheong provinces, the ruling party’s efforts to unify their election ticket into a single candidate will fall through.
If Lee Myung-bak’s support rate falls below 35 percent, the ruling party will have a chance of retaining power. The support rate for a candidate from the ruling party will likely be over 30 percent, and Lee Hoi-chang’s will probably be over 20 percent. In that case, Park’s choice becomes important.
If Park sees her choice as being critical to the party assuming power and decides to support Lee Myung-bak, the GNP’s support base will quickly gather around him. Then Lee Hoi-chang will be pushed aside just like Chung Ju-yung, a presidential candidate in the 1992 election.
Meanwhile, if Park supports Lee Hoi-chang because of the general election next year, the presidential election will descend into chaos. But Lee Hoi-chang is the most unlikely to win the presidency because he has become even more right-wing than he was in 2002. This means support from voters between 20 and 40 years of age will be weak.
We can assume an even more extreme scenario ― that something bad happens to Lee Myung-bak, the reason Lee Hoi-chang says he is considering running in the election. It is a terrible thing to say but there are concerns about possible terrorist attacks or that Lee could be punished by the courts.
We do not need to talk about a terrorist attack because that is too extreme a case.
And even if the prosecution has testimony from Kim Gyeong-jun about BBK and other crucial evidence, it is doubtful whether it can indict Lee Myung-bak in accordance with the law.
In the 1997 presidential election, then-President Kim Young-sam ordered the chief of the prosecution to halt an investigation into Kim Dae-jung, who was a presidential candidate at the time.
But let’s pretend that charges against Lee Myung-bak do stick. If the presidential candidate who has been the leading contender for more than a year suddenly drops out of the race, the election will become chaotic. Turnout will be low, and the result will be hard to predict. But what’s certain is that votes for Lee Myung-bak will not be simply transferred to Lee Hoi-chang, as he wishes, because he has moved too far to the right. That would be the worst-case scenario for the Grand National Party. Nobody knows what will happen within the next several weeks, but I’ve decided to give my imagination a try.

*The writer is the CEO of a political consulting firm , The Min Consulting. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sung-min
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