[Viewpoint] The GNP needs to reform and unite“I was frightened to see the outcome of the local elections. It was a mirror image of the presidential election in 2002. If this situation continues, the conservative ruling party will lose in the next presidential election,” Lee Hoi-chang, head of the Liberty Forward Party, said in a post-election radio interview.
The 2002 presidential election was a lamentable defeat for Lee. Kim Dae-jung’s smear campaign alleging draft dodging by Lee’s son and the support of young voters for the opposition were the main causes of his defeat. In the latest local elections, Twitter prompted voters not only in their 20s and 30s, but those in their 40s to vote for liberal candidates. Lee appears to believe that another conservative presidential victory will be difficult if young voters continue to turn away.
I agree with Lee’s gloomy forecast. Local elections are a midterm evaluation of an administration. It is often disadvantageous to the ruling party. That’s why the Uri Party, then the ruling party, suffered a crushing defeat in the 2006 local elections.
The Grand National Party, the opposition at the time, won not only the mayoral and gubernatorial posts, but also local councils around the nation.
However, the ruling GNP this time won Seoul and Gyeonggi by narrow margins, so it may be seen as half a victory. The problem lies with the administration’s arrogance and incompetence. Blinded by its victories in the last local elections and the presidential election, the conservative administration and the ruling party ignored the fact that elections are no longer about regionalism but about generational change.
If the ruling party was more careful about nominating candidates for district office heads and local council members in Gyeonggi, it would have not suffered such a big defeat. I am no expert in politics, but the nominations were so disappointing to offer any hope for victory that the GNP does not deserve to be called a conservative political party that understands political reality. Lawmakers intervene unnecessarily in the nomination of candidates for their own political purposes. Because they only try to pick their own loyalists, power struggles over the nominations erupted and the GNP eventually lost in their traditional strongholds. The defeat was a result of the conservatives’ greed. The growing popular demand for a free school lunch program in Gyeonggi easily foreshadowed the election of a liberal education office head. The demand for this began last fall, but the conservatives failed to react properly. Although it was obvious the party was going to lose in the education races, six or seven conservative candidates still ran in Seoul and Gyeonggi.
The conservative camp’s arrogance has produced greed and incompetence. The prime minister, the GNP chairman and the presidential chief of staff took turns to in expressing their intention to resign, but that won’t solve the issue. The conservatives need a fundamental change. Without a humble attitude, the conservatives will never win again and they must learn this lesson with the latest local election defeat.
Modesty and open-mindedness are crucial for the conservatives. Conservatives who display these attitudes will be able to stay in control for a longer period. They will unite the society. Although the Presidential Committee on Social Cohesion made a grand opening, what is urgent is not such a committee, but a real, grand unity of the conservatives.
It was foolish for the GNP to remain divided between the pro-Lee Myung-bak and pro-Park Geun-hye factions during the local election campaign. Furthermore, the GNP will have difficulties to fight against the liberal opposition if it lacks unity within the party.
Not only the Park faction, but all conservatives should unite. If they take a single wrong step, the administration will become a lame duck one immediately. After the Roh administration suffered its defeat in the local elections, it took two months before a cabinet reshuffle took place. As Roh then appointed his confidants to key posts, the administration quickly became a lame duck government. To prevent such a situation from recurring, the conservatives must become open-minded and find social unity.
It was very unfortunate that Professor Kim Il-young, a respected conservative scholar, died last year at the age of 49. In his great book, “Finding a Nation, Enriching a Country,” Kim provided truly high-caliber analysis and interpretation of Syngman Rhee’s national foundation projects, including the farming land reform, and Park Chung Hee’s strong determination to enrich the country.
Now we must walk on the path of strengthening our nation, leaving the paths of national foundation and enrichment. To make a country a truly strong nation, it will take at least 10 or 20 years. The Lee administration must not be obsessed with an election defeat. The more urgent task is achieving a grand unity among the conservatives within the larger framework to build the path to strengthen our country.
No matter when and how a cabinet reshuffle occurs, it is the administration’s responsibility. It wants to continue to push forward economic policy in addition to the Sejong City revision and four major rivers restoration plans, while successfully hosting the Group of 20 Summit, so it is possible that close confidants of the president may be appointed to key posts.
I just want to remind everyone such a reshuffle will be following the pattern of the last administration.
The reshuffle must be open-minded and even appeal to some liberals while uniting the conservatives. Only this will prevent Lee from becoming a lame duck and allow him to hand over the administration to the conservatives in the next elections.
In the end, true love is not confronting each other, but walking side by side to the same destination.
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is the president of the Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation and former president of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kwon Young-bin