[Viewpoint] A faction makes hay

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[Viewpoint] A faction makes hay

The faction loyal to Grand National Party interim leader Park Geun-hye, who ran against President Lee Myung-bak in the 2007 presidential primary, has been treated more or less as an illegitimate child in the ruling party. None were given respectable titles in the party until Hong Joon-pyo joined hands with some of the members during the GNP convention last July and became the party head. Only two from the faction were chosen to serve in the cabinet despite numerous ministerial appointments.

To Park loyalists, the group devoted to President Lee was like a greedy and mean stepfamily. They enjoyed all the major offices and the accompanying power and treated the oppressed splinter members shabbily.

But the world goes ’round. Park has returned to the party’s helm by agreeing to head its emergency leadership council, which is supposed to spearhead major reforms to save the party, and that has brought her followers into the limelight. Her loyalists declared an end to the factional division in the GNP and did not attain any positions on the council.

They can now hold their heads high. And some cannot hide their glee. A few are already enjoying their newly elevated status and promoting their relationship with Park to make the most of shifting winds.

One first-term legislator from the pro-Park faction is boasting he will wield influence in the procedure of selecting candidates to run in the April legislative election. He goes around saying he has the full confidence of Park, who attended one of his book launching parties. Some have even organized groups outside the party trading on Park’s name and competing among themselves by accentuating their allegiances to her.

Representatives Kim Sung-sik and Jeong Tae-keun, dubbed reformists, split from the ruling party partly because of the pro-Park faction. They presented their ideas for reforms in writing, including the suggestion that the party be dismantled, and gave the document to one of Park’s loyalists, requesting a meeting with her. Park never saw the document or heard of the request to meet.

It is unclear who got in the way: the person who received the document or other aides of Park. But the two legislators ended up resenting Park. They believed she ignored their ideas and declined to meet them. They attended a party congregation bearing such ill feelings and discovered that most of the pro-Park faction opposed their idea of dismantling and reorganizing the ruling party. When one of Park’s loyalists bluntly said that those who weren’t happy with the party should leave, they packed up.

There is talk that three is a crowd among Park loyalists. They cannot mingle in large groups because they’re all trying so hard to score individual points with Park. So they keep a distance from each other and talk behind each other’s back. Park may not be fully aware of the tension among her followers, but the journalists covering the ruling party can clearly see it.

When one legislator tells a journalist Park’s thoughts on a certain issue, another outright denies it. It is common among Park loyalists to talk differently on their interpretations and understanding of Park’s comments and thoughts largely because of their rivalry.

Of course, they are many others who are modest and discreet in how they talk and act. But there are black sheep who are tainting Park’s name. Their indiscretions can draw resentment and suspicion from larger pro-president and centrist forces and water down efforts to unify the party. There are already many who say they do not want to work and cooperate with Park and her reform plans because of the pack dogs around her with their sheepish rivalry.

If they really want Park to succeed in her new role and a bid in the presidential race, her supporters must not repeat the mistakes of President Lee’s followers. They may be thrilled to finally see daylight, but they must force themselves to be humble. Lee Hae-bong, a four-term lawmaker from Daegu and a key Park loyalist, declared he won’t run in the next legislative election. He said he came to the decision after long and hard contemplation.

There should be more like Lee among Park loyalists. They can, of course, complain of unfairness because it was the mainstream members who ruined the party. But the smaller faction must act boldly in order to inspire the greater half. Park said she will yield all vested rights. Her followers must demonstrate her pledge through real action. Such acts of unselfishness and humility can win back public trust in the Grand National Party.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Sang-il
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