No immunity for SaenuriDogged by the botched handling of the Sewol ferry crisis and its aftermath, including a series of failures in follow-up appointments, President Park Geun-hye and the ruling party received a major uplift from the July 30 midterm by-elections that delivered a surprising landslide victory for the Saenuri Party. The party’s head, Kim Moo-sung, gained strength in his leadership following the by-elections, in which the Saenuri snatched 11 of 15 seats, raising its majority to 158 in the 300-member National Assembly.
The vote of confidence could also serve as traction for Choi Kyung-hwan, a veteran politician and a close aide of the president, who earlier this month started as deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs, in his campaign to revive the economy. With a bigger majority, the ruling party will be able to push forward with major disputed laws and reforms to uproot corruption and collusion in officialdom. But the president and the Saenuri must not overestimate themselves just because of the poll results. They won not because of the public’s confidence in them but because the people have less faith in the opposition.
The public gave the ruling party another chance to make a difference. The government and the party must answer their call by rebuilding the nation to ensure that catastrophic disasters like the Sewol ferry sinking will never happen again. The Sewol crisis will forever be remembered, and the people are closely watching what post-crisis difference the politicians will make. They must also revive the economy to improve the people’s lives.
The voters are nonetheless jittery about their choice. The government does not look reliable under Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who resigned after the Sewol crisis but was retained due to a series of failures in replacements, and Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon, who embarrassed the president with a chain of botched candidate choices in a cabinet reshuffle. The discovery of corruption in a railway project again underscores that collusion between the authorities and private companies is rampant. Public law enforcement and security services - the military, police, prosecutors and the coast guard - also appear to be unreliable.
Despite a mountain of challenges, it remains questionable whether the leadership has the decisiveness or perseverance to see reforms through. The July 30 election results are not a vote of confidence in the president’s errors and faults. Park has just earned a second chance to recreate herself and her government. She must not waste it.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 2, Page 26