For GNP, substance over style

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For GNP, substance over style

The struggling Grand National Party recently launched an 11-member emergency council under the helm of leader Park Geun-hye. After a week-long study organized by Park, the members promised to make sweeping changes to the ruling party. Some have even called for the party to be completely dismantled and reorganized.

Apart from party members, Park recruited a handful of reform-minded figures ranging in age from their early 20s to their 70s. She included lawmakers and professors who have been critical of both the party and the policies of President Lee Myung-bak as part of her pledge to strip the party down to its “bare bones” and chase wholehearted reform.

The figures on the list include Kim Chong-in, a former presidential secretary of economic affairs who has been pushing to reform large companies. Kim also advocates greater social equality and broader welfare measures. Lee Sang-don, a law professor at Chung-Ang University and an outspoken critic of the president’s four-rivers renovation project, also found his way onto the council.

The team that Park has selected suggests the ruling party may try to distance itself from an increasingly unpopular government when it maps out its future policies. Additionally, the recruitment of 26-year-old Lee Jun-seok, the Harvard-educated chief executive of venture company Classe Studio, is aimed at strengthening ties with younger voters ahead of the legislative elections that are scheduled for April. And with support ratings for the ruling party having dropped, Lee’s move to teach teenagers in poor neighborhoods for free will certainly not hurt in restoring some of its credibility. In fact, the public will be watching closely to see if the emergency council can generate genuine reform in the conservative party by revamping its platforms, traditions, culture, organization and behavior. Party officials also need to be reshuffled.

Whether the party starts anew under a new name or reorganizes is not necessarily that important. What matters is erasing the GNP’s old stigma as an elitist, old-guard party. The phoenix that rises from the ashes must be seen to crack down on corruption and heed the demands of common folk. It has to demonstrate a new vision and field new faces with new ideas at the upcoming election.

If factional disputes or shady deals cast suspicion on the way new candidates are selected - as has often been the case - the party will have no chance of succeeding in next year’s legislative and presidential elections.
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