Divided, the GNP will fallConservative lawyer Lee Seog-yeon, whom the conservatives fielded to pit against progressive lawyer-turned-activist Park Won-soon, bowed out of the Seoul mayoral by-election this week. He said he was shocked by the low approval ratings he received in recent polls. He also cited differences in opinion with conservative civilian organizations in explaining his decision to quit the race. He humbly conceded that he overestimated his popularity, but the failure of this outsider candidate to win over voters is more than a personal problem. It underscores the weakness of conservative forces in Korean society.
Lee was cajoled into the election by the ruling Grand National Party to challenge Park, who suddenly emerged as a formidable candidate after entrepreneur-turned-professor Ahn Cheol-soo publicly endorsed the progressive activist instead of running himself. Ahn rocked the mainstream political circle just by hinting that he might run, and Park suddenly stepped into the limelight after Ahn’s gallant exit. The GNP struggled to find a candidate of its own who could match Park’s caliber and, despite having a host of qualified candidates within the party, looked outside and scouted Lee.
But unlike Park, Lee did not enter politics of his own volition and barely represents civilian groups. Conservative civilian groups hastily united to field Lee as a candidate, but they quickly clashed while trying to come up with a suitable platform for his election. Upon the pivotal issue of free school meals, Lee maintained support for the idea and said he could not compromise his beliefs, thus throwing a wrench in the GNP’s plan of presenting a unified front in the by-election.
It appears that conservative organizations did not really do their homework before looking for someone to represent them. A proud conservative would have registered as a candidate and pitched to uphold conservative values. A candidate with experience and leadership skills would have ironed out internal differences and found a way of presenting a united voice
Because they started out on the wrong foot, however, the conservatives have flopped half way. In particular, this is a setback for the GNP, which pushed conservative civic groups to get involved in the first place.
Now, Park is on a fast track, while the GNP, despite having named Na Kyung-won as its main player, has not even left the starting blocks because of infighting. There may be no hope for the party.