[Viewpoint]Park Geun-hye still a GNP force

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[Viewpoint]Park Geun-hye still a GNP force

The one to emerge as the winner from all the brawling that has plagued the National Assembly was surprising: Park Geun-hye, the former head of the Grand National Party.

As she climbed the steps of the National Assembly at 10:50 a.m. on March 2, GNP Chairman Park Hee-tae, with National Assembly speaker, was explaining the outcome of last-minute negotiations to reporters at the Rotunda Hall, where ruling party lawmakers were protesting. Park Hee-tae and other members of the GNP Supreme Council met with National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyung-o and demanded he exercise his power to introduce contested bills. It was a critical moment.

When Park Geun-hye appeared, the demonstrators got excited. And the reporters all ran to her at once.

As dozens of reporters gathered around, Park Geun-hye went back down the steps and stood in the middle of the spacious entrance lobby.

On other days, she would have just given a short greeting and passed by instead of taking the time to speak with the reporters. Dispirited, Park Hee-tae, the incumbent party chairman, left the hall, and Park Geun-hye started to read comments that had certainly been prepared beforehand.

“The ruling party has made many concessions and made efforts to create a national consensus. So it is the opposition’s turn to make a concession,” she said.

She meant that the ruling party will not be fazed by the opposition’s demand for a solid timeline to handle the bills causing the turmoil in the Assembly.

When a reporter asked if it was right for Speaker Kim to introduce the bills even if the opposition disagrees, she said, “No comment.”

Her remarks were not surprising. Any ruling party lawmaker would have said the same thing.

However, if we look more carefully, her comments suggest significant news. So far, she had opposed the hastiness of the ruling party. At first, she was quite displeased about the contents of the controversial bills.

On the morning of Jan. 5, she appeared at a meeting of ruling party leaders when no one expected her attendance. She seemed determined to voice her opinion and said, “I regret that the controversial bills gave the citizens disappointment and pain.”

The next day, the ruling and opposition parties released an agreement to delay voting on the controversial bills till the next special session. The agreement in effect normalized the operation of the January special session.

Park Geun-hye made an appearance at a gathering of Grand National Party lawmakers urging Speaker Kim to introduce the controversial bills, and urged the opposition to concede now that the ruling party has compromised on the contents and procedure of the bills.

Three hours later, the opposition party announced a compromise plan to vote on the media bills after 100 days of discussion. It was as if the opposition was responding to her demand. The agreement concluded the February special session.

Of course, Park herself did not make these changes. They are the results of intense discussion and compromise among the ruling party, opposition leaders and the National Assembly speaker. She merely made an appearance at the last moment. So some argue that she was trying to take advantage of the situation, and some think her critical timing was just a coincidence.

However, one thing is clear. Her influence is undeniable. Her remarks expressing regret about the controversial bill on Jan. 5 certainly diluted the dissatisfaction of the GNP hardliners with the negotiation results the following day.

Since then, pro-Park lawmakers have not hesitated to express negative opinions on the controversial bills, and the GNP’s drive to push the bills forward has considerably slowed down.

Some pro-Lee Myung-bak lawmakers of the Grand National Party increasingly fear her growing influence. The GNP is virtually divided.

In contrast, Park’s pressure on the opposition party to make concessions encouraged the Grand National Party and embarrassed the Democratic Party.

On hearing about Park’s appearance at the Rotunda Hall, some Democratic Party leaders asked the reporters about her comments. Grand National Party lawmakers hurriedly prepared a seat for her at the gathering.

Park’s power is unofficial and intangible but vivid. She won the struggle because she still has power.

Park Geun-hye’s victory might be burdensome to President Lee Myung-bak. But it could be said that it has simply reconfirmed the fact that Lee’s homework is to embrace Park Geun-hye.

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

by Oh Byung-sang

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