A deaf and dumb GNPDespite controversies over his views on national security and his military service record, liberal independent candidate Park Won-soon won the Seoul mayoral by-election by a remarkable 7.2 percent margin over his rival Na Kyung-won from the ruling Grand National Party.
His popularity among voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s was spectacular indeed: He received two to three times more support from that age bracket. The outcome means that the ruling party has played the game within its own comfort zone while the relatively young generations of Koreans long to see some vision for the future agenda rather than finding fault with Park’s past.
The younger generations have perhaps made the right decision, considering the GNP’s attitude and actions. From President Lee Myung-bak to Na, it turned a deaf ear to calls for reform by keeping intact its reputation for corruption, intransigence and self-indulgence, as evidenced, for instance, by a close aide of Lee who was imprisoned on bribery charges. A legislator representing one of the poorest districts in Seoul, Na regularly was hardly an exception. She visited a luxurious beauty parlor in one of the most upscale parts of southern Seoul for skin care.
As in the past, Seoul has political and historical significance far stronger than other regions. Yet, the chairman of the ruling party said the by-elections were a draw because the GNP won some local government positions elsewhere. If the GNP’s crushing defeats in the June 2010 local elections and the April 27 by-election in Bundang District gave a yellow card to the GNP, its numb reaction to those warnings invited a red card this time - a painful loss in the Seoul mayoral race.
Worse, the GNP has dismissed a call for a leadership shake-up, citing a lack of alternative leadership. It is doubtful the party can carry out any kind of reform under such circumstances. The GNP floor leader seems to have given up pushing a vote for the ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, overwhelmed by the opposition camp’s resolute opposition and newfound strength.
If the results of the by-elections are a barometer of next year’s general election, the ruling party will probably secure only seven out of 48 districts in Seoul. And if the GNP becomes a minority party in the National Assembly, it will have trouble governing the nation if it wins in next year’s presidential election. If it fails to wake up, the party will most likely face a tsunami of defeats next year.