No time for factional wranglingCalls for change within the Grand National Party have been getting louder as its struggles with a plunging approval rating. Twenty-five representatives from the ruling party have submitted a letter to the president and party demanding reform. Party head Hong Joon-pyo proposed selling off the headquarters building in Yeouido, central Seoul, and the executive committee plans to discuss a reform bill that suggests, among other measures, selecting proportional representatives through public bidding. The Blue House is also precipitating a reshuffle. Despite these overtures, however, the GNP’s reform steps are getting little attention because of a perceived lack of sincerity.
The list of proposals presented to the Blue House more or less reflected the feelings of the public. Following the GNP’s defeat in the recent Seoul mayoral by-election, President Lee Myung-bak said he would take to heart the message that the younger generation had sent through their votes. Yet he continued his practice of issuing revolving-door appointments - shifting officials from public to private sector positions and vice versa - and insisted that his administration was ethically impeccable despite a number of his aides having been charged in relation to a corruption scandal. The president’s standoffish attitude towards political affairs and conflict also came under criticism.
Meanwhile, after reading the request for reform from 25 members of the party, Lee is said to have remained silent, while the Blue House made known its displeasure at their decision to criticize the president while he was out of the country. The reform drive seems stuck in neutral due to this lack of urgency among the ruling party, which cannot come to a consensus on the direction for change. Such problems are not limited to individuals or factions but rather the entire conservative camp. To head off a crisis of governance, the powers that be must find some common ground and, hopefully, the reshuffle and appointments slated for later this week will be a good start.
Former GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye should use her clout to spearhead party reform. Hong, who is advocating moving headquarters to a more publicly accessible location, lacks the qualities to lead such a reform drive.
But first, the party must overhaul fundamental problems, such as the way it chooses election candidates. It must also curb the continuous factional wrangling, as it now has a bigger battle on its hands. All of the members must learn some humility and not put themselves before the party.