Chung’s next challengeThe Grand National Party has found a new leader in lawmaker Chung Mong-joon. The leadership change, following a reshuffle within the presidential office and the cabinet, was a direct result of the party’s defeat in the by-elections in April. Since then, two former presidents have passed away and President Lee Myung-bak has taken a decisive turn toward a policy of integration, neutrality, practicality and public welfare. The party must move quickly to position itself in line with the government.
Chairman Chung must first of all come up with a blueprint for the party’s major reform projects, including amending the Constitution and realigning administrative and electoral districts. Party leadership will have to contend with differences of opinion about the reform scheme not only within the GNP, but also between the party and the government. With regard to the amendment of the Constitution, for example, there are multiple factions within the party and the knee-jerk response of the opposition party to consider. Meanwhile, the government and ruling party have too often been out of tune on key issues like real estate, taxation and non-permanent jobs. They must communicate with one another to present a more unified voice. No wonder there are so few members of the public who understand what’s going on.
Secondly, the party must ease the friction between the followers of President Lee and former party leader Park Geun-hye. The two factions came together temporarily to legalize the contentious media-related bills but the rift between them could widen again as they approach the October by-elections and the party convention next year. Chung, who does not belong to either faction, is in the best position to heal this kind of internal division.
On a personal level, the new post will be a test for Chung. He has a wealth of experience with success and failure, dignity and obligation. He proved his prowess in corporate management at Hyundai Heavy Industries, his diplomacy through successful hosting of the World Cup in Korea, and his political skills through his six victories in Ulsan. But his contribution to politics and the noblesse oblige he has displayed since his defection from the country’s second largest business group remains questionable. And he continues to receive criticism from conservatives for the stunt he pulled in 2002, when he withdrew from the presidential election in the final hour only to help Roh Moo-hyun win. He has now assumed the helm of the ruling party, winning a priceless opportunity to position himself for a presidential run. His future and that of his party depends on how much he is able to support the government as it moves in its new direction.