2012 general election is looking a lot like 2004

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2012 general election is looking a lot like 2004

The general election in April is going to produce a strong feeling of deja vu: the political dynamics, and even some of the key players, are the same as during the elections of 2004.

Both then and now the liberal camp is showing unity and strength, while the conservatives fear they’ve lost too much public support because of corruption and dirty tricks scandals.

On the liberal side, the return of loyalists of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun became clear when Han Myeong-sook, a former prime minister under Roh, became chairwoman Sunday of the largest liberal opposition group, the Democratic Unity Party. Another Roh loyalist, Moon Sung-keun, finished second in the leadership race, while Park Jie-won, a veteran backed by Kim Dae-jung loyalists and Jeolla politicians, came in fourth.

Roh loyalists will control the DUP’s campaign for the April legislative elections and December presidential election against the conservative ruling Grand National Party, and it’s worth looking back at what happened in the 2004 elections.

Roh, who won the presidency under the Democratic ticket in December 2002, left the party in September 2003 and established his own party with his supporters, the Uri Party. In the 2004 general election, the Uri Party defeated the GNP, taking 152 seats in the 299-member National Assembly, while the GNP won 121 seats.

In that election, the Uri Party broadened its reach beyond the Jeolla region by winning three seats in the GNP strongholds of Gyeongsang provinces.

The short-lived Uri Party merged with the Democratic Party in the summer of 2007 to unite the liberals against the GNP in the presidential election. But Chung Dong-young, the DP candidate, suffered a crushing defeat to the GNP’s Lee Myung-bak. During the Lee administration, the DP found itself in the wilderness and was trounced by the GNP in 2008 legislative elections, winning only 81 seats to the GNP’s 153.

The DUP, led by the Roh loyalists, is trying to return to its golden days. On Sunday, new chairwoman Han announced that her goal was for the DUP to win big in April and go on to win the presidency in December.

The DUP is reaching out to other liberal parties ahead of the April elections. Yesterday Han met with the leaders of the Unified Progressive Party, created through a recent merger of the Democratic Labor and People’s Participation parties, and discussed the liberals’ strategy to unite. As in 2004, the DUP wants to be a party with muscle throughout the nation, not just in the Jeolla region.

The GNP is having an even stronger feeling of deja vu. Eight years ago, the conservative party found itself on the abyss after its reputation was tarnished by a series of scandals and contretemps, including an illegal political funding scandal surrounding its presidential candidate, Lee Hoi-chang, and a backlash from its impeachment of then-President Roh.

Today, the GNP is in crisis over an accusation that its lawmakers’ aides carried out a cyberattack on the National Election Commission Web site to influence the October Seoul mayoral by-election. Before that scandal could subside, a GNP lawmaker dropped a bombshell saying he was given money to vote for a candidate in the party’s internal leadership election. The crisis has become so deep that some lawmakers in the GNP want the party to formally dissolve itself and regroup in some way.

In 2004, Representative Park Geun-hye took the reins of the sinking ruling party as emergency leader - a role she is reprising now. In early 2004, Park instituted ruthless reform measures, moved the party’s headquarters to a makeshift tent and led a campaign that successfully defended the GNP in the 2004 elections.

Although it lost to the Uri Party, the GNP still managed to win 121 seats, far larger than what it anticipated earlier with its plummeting popularity.

In 2004, Park waged her fight against Uri Party Chairman Chung Dong-young, whose nickname was the “crown prince of the Roh government.”

This time, she will fight against Han, known as Roh’s political heir.

Park admitted that she’s back where she was eight years ago. In a meeting with journalists on Monday, a reporter commented that she would face her old opponents, and Park replied, “It’s like the Uri Party.”

The Roh loyalists were pioneers in using new technologies. In 2004, the Uri Party used the Internet as a tool to promote its candidates.

Today, the liberals are known to be adept at using social networking services to rally their supporters, while the conservative GNP is playing catch up with the trend.

“Although the current situation is similar to 2004, both ruling and opposition parties need to demonstrate that they are revamped and upgraded,” said Kim Hyung-joon, a political science professor at Myongji University.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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