[Viewpoint]Winners and losers of a Lee bid

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[Viewpoint]Winners and losers of a Lee bid

What had been expected has finally taken place. With the presidential election just one and a half months away, and the front-runner enjoying an overwhelming approval rating of around 50 percent compared to the runner-up with just above 20 percent, Lee Hoi-chang, the former chairman of the Grand National Party, finally has a chance.
If the approval rating of candidate Chung Dong-young had risen to the 30-percent level, putting the conservatives on alert, what would have happened? Would Lee still have thought about running for president, ranked in third place with an approval rating of around 10 percent? Probably not. His potential bid only became possible because the liberal forces broke into pieces while the conservatives held up their spirits.
Lee Hoi-chang must have been awaiting a different situation.
He probably waited for candidate Lee Myung-bak’s approval rating to fall to a dangerous level due to attacks from the liberal forces. In such a situation, instead of coming out as a “spare candidate” on the chance that an unfortunate incident might befall candidate Lee Myung-bak, he could have jumped into the presidential race as an “alternative candidate” for government change.
Some say Lee Hoi-chang is running for president because he felt sore about candidate Lee, who called on former President Kim Young-sam for advice soon after winning the primary while neglecting to come to him.
Some say he is stepping forward because he found the North Korea policy of Lee Myung-bak and the Grand National Party unacceptable.
But these are nothing but excuses; such analyses are all mistaken. Nobody and nothing can stop Lee Hoi-chang from running again. Not even the criticism that he is “the second Rhee In-jae,” who ran for president despite losing in the party primary.
Lee Hoi-chang has a deep attachment to the presidency and an old score to settle in his heart. There is no possibility he will unify with Lee Myung-bak near the end of the presidential race.
A Lee Hoi-chang presidential candidacy will give other candidates both benefits and disadvantages. Who stands to lose most? At first glance it may look like Lee Myung-bak, but this is not necessarily so.
It only appears that way because a threat has emerged against the candidate with the highest potential to win. Instead, this could be an opportunity to offset other crises for the leading candidate, as long as he uses good management. Lee Myung-bak should mend his relationship with Park Geun-hye and consolidate his support base by rousing them with the sense of crisis. Hasn’t the rumor of Lee Hoi-chang’s candidacy already blunted the impact of suspicions raised about the candidate’s role in BBK? However, if the crisis is not managed well, it might increase the risk, instead of counterbalancing it.
The real losers are independent candidate Moon Kook-hyun and Democratic Party candidate Rhee In-jae. It is like a bolt out of the blue against Moon, whose approval rating was about to rise above the 10-percent mark. If Lee Hoi-chang runs, Moon can’t hope to become the central player among liberals after the presidential election, much less emerge as a center for consolidation among the liberal presidential candidates. Candidate Rhee In-jae’s dream was to gain hegemony of the Chungcheong provinces and thus become the presidential candidate from the pro-government forces who could establish a Honam-Chungcheong solidarity. However, now Sim Dae-pyung, the candidate of the People First Party, which is based in the Chungcheong area, says he will “invite” Lee Hoi-chang as his party’s new presidential candidate; the liberals are in danger of being deprived of the right to represent the Chungcheong provinces.
Now all eyes are on Park Geun-hye. She is receiving calls of love here and there. The greater the sense of crisis for candidate Lee Myung-bak, the broader Park’s range of possibility becomes. However, it is hard to expect Park to give support to Lee Hoi-chang. Judging from her personality, she will keep to her words in accepting the results of her party’s primary election. As can be expected, she is waiting for the best timing to say something about Lee Hoi-chang.
Candidate Chung Dong-young is another possible beneficiary of a Lee Hoi-chang candidacy. According to recent public opinion polls, he fell to third among the candidates because of Lee Hoi-chang, but that is not bad. If the votes of conservatives are split, it means the chances are better for the pro-government forces to return to power, and the pressure for the unification of the pro-government candidates will rise. The current situation raises chances that he will stand in the center.
It is not bad for Kwon Young-ghil, the Democratic Labor Party’s candidate, either. Having an opponent who stands directly on the opposite side of the political spectrum will call more attention to him. Lee Hoi-chang has already said, “Let’s not be afraid of being called conservative nuts,” and gone to the far right.
But worldly affairs are not so simple. Politics is a living organism, and unexpected variables continuously appear. A Lee Hoi-chang candidacy has these lessons to teach: Cast away greed ― you can’t go it alone; Leadership of unification and compromise is necessary; Support from the people can disappear at any time. Let’s see how well our presidential candidates with weak political bases learn these lessons.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo
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