Wake-up call for SaenuriThe ruling Saenuri Party elects its new leadership today in a national convention amidst a sense of crisis engulfing the Park Geun-hye administration. The ruling party is one of the key players in national governance together with the Blue House and the cabinet. Therefore, a change in party leadership should help revitalize the conservative government in crisis.
But the reality says otherwise. Despite a strong need for the party to lead political reform and serve as a role model for our society, a fierce factional fight between two political heavyweights - Suh Chung-won, seventh-term lawmaker and former chairman of the Grand National Party (the predecessor of the Saenuri Party) and Kim Moo-sung, a fourth-term lawmaker and former secretary general of the GNP - over the leadership only deepens the crisis.
In the April 2012 general elections, the party leadership led by Park Geun-hye did not nominate Kim for a seat at the National Assembly on grounds that he had turned pro-Lee Myung-bak from pro-Park Geun-hye. However, the party rehired Kim as head of the presidential campaign in December of that year and nominated him in a by-election the following year, which he won. Now that he is running to lead the party, Suh, the de facto leader of the pro-Park Geun-hye group, vehemently opposes him because, as he says, “He has an aspiration to be president.” A presidential hopeful has every right to make his or her dream come true. Suh criticizes Kim without reasonable grounds.
Kim counterattacks Suh for being a symbol of “old politics.” Kim has every right to defend himself from attacks. But both are, in fact, responsible for exemplifying the so-called old politics: They were convicted for receiving illegal campaign funds. Both were members of the same group loyal to former President Kim Young-sam. The mudslinging ahead of the national convention only frustrates the next generation of the party.
The party’s new chairman will wield strong influence on whom to nominate in the 2016 general elections. With no fixed nomination rules, however, incumbent legislators - or other political aspirants for that matter - must kowtow to the chairman to get nominations. That forces them to keep their mouths shut despite the urgent call for a national revamp since the April Sewol ferry disaster.
While President Park is struggling to survive her partly self-inflicted crisis, hijinks at the very top of the party only fuels the chaos. The Saenuri Party must wake up to some hard realities before it’s too late.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 14, Page 34