Time for reconciliation?President Lee Myung-bak starts the second half of his term on Wednesday. For the past two and half years, the ruling camp’s biggest problem has been the conflict between President Lee and Park Geun-hye, who leads the minority faction of several dozen lawmakers in the ruling party. Park has expressed different positions from Lee on several major issues, including the massive candle-light protests against U.S. beef imports and the administration’s strong-handed suppression of residents revolting against the forced destruction of their shanty homes in the Yongsan redevelopment district. Her opposition also created problems for the administration’s Sejong City revision plan, which was voted down in the National Assembly.
Since the ruling party’s first election defeat in April last year, we have consistently pointed out that reconciliation between the two politicians is key to revitalizing the ruling camp. After 16 months of confrontation, the two leaders finally met at the Blue House on Saturday to work toward cooperation. Both leaders reportedly agreed to help assure a GNP victory in the next presidential election in 2012, paving the way for reconciliation down the road.
However, if they intend to achieve genuine reconciliation, they must first reflect on their past conflicts with an eye on avoiding them in the future.
Despite a fierce fight for the presidential nomination in 2007, the two leaders were initially able to come together. Park accepted her defeat in the presidential race and helped Lee’s campaign for president. Lee promised to treat Park as a “partner in governance,” vowing that the GNP nomination for the National Assembly election in April, 2008 would be conducted fairly. But Lee failed to keep his promise, instituting the so-called “nomination massacre” against pro-Park candidates.
It’s time for the president to come through on his earlier promise. To fully unite the party, Lee should ensure that the competition in the April 2012 general election and the next presidential race is fair for Park’s minority faction.
Park also should separate her disagreements with the president from his national governance. As head of the GNP during the liberal Rho Moo-hyun administration, she took the lead in protecting our national identity and ensuring law and order. Since then, though, she has taken a different course. Park felt the candle-light demonstrations were irrelevant from an ideological perspective, and with regard to the sinking of the Cheonan warship she passively denounced North Korea’s brutal actions. Park will only be able to strengthen her position in the power game if she behaves in a more mature - and clearer - manner.