[Viewpoint] Avoiding another massacre

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[Viewpoint] Avoiding another massacre

Voltaire, the 18th century French writer and philosopher, said, “Tears are the silent language of grief.” Park Geun-hye, the head of the emergency leadership council of the ruling Saenuri Party, teared up as she announced this week she won’t run for the National Assembly from her constituency of Daegu’s Dalseong County. She teared up three times, in fact, when she met with local residents and reporters. She must have been overwhelmed to be saying farewell to the district she has represented for 14 years.

Dalseong County is a special place for Park. In the by-election of April 1998, Park was preparing to run as a Grand National Party candidate in Mungyeong-Yecheon district. Her father, former president Park Chung Hee, had taught in an elementary school in Mungyeong for three years, and the locals felt nostalgic toward Park’s legacy.

Park Geun-hye was expecting an easy victory there. But the party asked her to run in Dalseong. Two months earlier, President Kim Dae-jung declared an “eastward policy” to expand the Democratic Party’s influence to the Yeongnam (South and North Gyeongsang) region. Um Sam-tak, a native of Dalseong, was running for the ruling party and the Grand National Party had no candidate to rival him.

Kim Yeong-il, former lawmaker and GNP deputy secretary general who was never part of the pro-Park faction, recalled, “Park Geun-hye did not complain and followed the party’s order immediately. She was running in a district where she had no connections, and she was not likely to win, but I thought she was a daughter worthy of President Park Chung Hee as she put the interests of the party before her own.”

Park Guen-hye wore a pedometer during the campaign. When it reached 100,000 steps, it was reset, and it reset often. She made the unfamiliar Dalseong her political hometown. If she had failed, the political topography of the Yeongnam region would have been different. So it’s understandable Park would get emotional as she parted with the district. At the same time, her tears signified a new beginning. She is determined to start from scratch as the Grand National Party is reborn as the Saenuri Party after a series of fiascos and disgraces.

Park said she would sacrifice herself for the greater good of the party. Under the command of Park, the reform and reinvention of the ruling party are expected to accelerate. However, reform does not necessarily mean better politics. Depending on the focus of the reform, it could be progressive or retrograde.

The core area of reform is the nomination of aspiring candidates for the legislative elections slated for April 11. Park said, “If the party reform is a process of painting a dragon, nominations are the finishing touch of drawing in the eyes.” She promised a number of times that the nominations would be awarded on a transparent system, with no preferential treatments to the pro-Lee Myung-bak or pro-Park Geun-hye factions of the party.

Nevertheless, the members of the pro-Lee faction cannot help but be dubious. Former Chairman Chung Mong-joon distributed a press release saying that those who are against Park should not be shunned on the pretext of the emergency reforms. He made the warning because the nomination committee does not include any key member of the pro-Lee faction. Park needs to display the essence of greater politics with her nomination choices. If she gives the impression that she is retaliating for the “nomination massacre” that her faction suffered before the 2008 elections, the ruling party will have no chance in the election. Then she would have to cry tears of regret.

The nominations reflect the competency of the leader, and the voters will evaluate her based on her judgment. She needs to remember the reputation that attached itself to President Lee after the massacre four years ago. This year’s election will be her trial, and she cannot avoid accountability. No doubt Park is on the horns of a dilemma. If she wants to pursue reform, she will have to reshuffle the incumbent members of the National Assembly.

That’s precisely what the voters want. However, many of the party members are pro-Lee, and excluding them will surely look like retaliation. But if she wants to avoid criticism, she may not be able to pursue reform aggressively.Park needs some political alchemy. She needs to make convincing and trustworthy nomination choices. The pro-Park faction needs to sacrifice itself first.

Veteran politicians who have enjoyed the perks of their positions need to come forward and declare they will not seek re-election. Park is agonizing over how to reinvent the party, how to convert the ugly Grand National Party into a more attractive Saenuri Party. Who can help her most but the pro-Park politicians?

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

by Lee Sang-il

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