The truth about loyalty in politics

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The truth about loyalty in politics

While it belongs to another owner now, the old headquarters of the Grand National Party (GNP), the predecessor to the ruling Saenuri Party, used to be located in a 10-story building in front of the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul. When I first entered the building in February 2000, the air was bleak. GNP Chairman Lee Hoi-chang had excluded the political faction led by Kim Yun-hwan in his decision to reform the party’s nomination system, which Kim took as a hard blow.

A renowned economist from the Korea Development Institute had just begun to work in the office on the ninth floor as the director of the Yeouido Institute. He was in charge of policy but also handled political affairs, and most of the speeches presented by Lee Hoi-chang went through him. He also took care of business for the GNP chairman following the defeat in the election. When I asked why he entered politics, he said that he could not sit idly by when the country was a mess.

That man was Yoo Seung-min. Nowadays, he is defined solely by his relationship with President Park Geun-hye. A former pro-Park politician, he has now been disowned. Is that a fair reputation for him?

In 2000, current Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung was working as secretary general, although his service was short-lived due to a slip of tongue. In fact, most of the politicians in the GNP were loyalists to Lee Hoi-chang, with few exceptions.

In 2002, the GNP headquarters was a full house. Choi Kyung-hwan was a special aide to Lee, and former Blue House secretary Cho Yun-seon was a spokesperson. They are considered President Park’s closest aides today. But how will they be defined five years later? Who will they side with? They’ll have to support someone unless they become leaders themselves.

Unlike the opposition party, power always shifted in the Saenuri Party’s leadership. If Park Geun-hye hadn’t been so strict during the Lee Myung-bak administration, many of the lawmakers close to her would have worked for Lee.

So working for a certain person at a certain point does not guarantee his or her loyalty. And it should not be so. While a leader may change, an established political party should not.

There is a certain hierarchy for the general election candidates in Daegu. There are the true supporters of Park Geun-hye and the semi-supporters - those who wish to be close to her and her critics. It is truly pathetic that those aspiring to be lawmakers obsess over their personal connections, and this phenomenon is proof that the party is a personally exploited clique. It would be naive to believe that their claims of loyalty today mean action tomorrow.

The author is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 24, Page 35

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