President Park’s name no longer gives candidates a boostThe ruling party’s formerly successful strategy of flaunting their association with President Park Geun-hye is conspicuously absent from its 20th National Assembly election campaign.
With flagging nationwide support and only two years left in office, Park is no longer to be found on posters of candidates backed by the ruling Saenuri Party.
Park’s renown as “Queen of Elections” dates back to March 24, 2004, when she revived the conservative Hannara Party, which at the time was suffering after the impeachment of the late President Roh Moo-hyun on charges of illegal electioneering.
Park took the party signboard and made an interim headquarters on the pavement in Yeouido, vowing to earn back the people’s trust and map out a new path for the party’s future. As she and party members camped out for days, the party won 121 seats in the 17th National Assembly elections.
Following this success, putting Park’s name out front, a tactic that came to be known as “Park Geun-hye marketing,” became widely acknowledged as an easy way to win votes.
During the 18th National Assembly elections in 2008, held soon after former President Lee Myung-bak took office, even some pro-Lee candidates decorated their name cards with a photo of Park. And the Pro-Park Alliance, the first party to use a person’s name in its title, won 14 seats. Candidates also used Park’s name during the 19th National Assembly elections in 2012 and during local elections in 2014.
But in the current April 13 election campaign, for the first time in 12 years “Park Geun-hye marketing” is nowhere to be found.
Some candidates have even taken things one step further, from omission to confrontation. One member of the Saenuri’s pro-Park faction modified his slogans, which previously read “I was always behind President Park,” to say “I am the one who can speak straight to the President.”
“The ‘Park Geun-hye marketing’ strategy should not be used now,” he said, declining to disclose his name.
“In the field, asking people to ‘help make President Park a successful President’ is not effective,” said Choung Byoung-gug, a fourth-term lawmaker and candidate in the Yeoju-Yangpyong region in the upcoming election.
According to JoongAng Ilbo research, among 47 Saenuri candidates in Seoul, none have Park’s name or picture on the front of their campaign materials. Even Son Su-jo, a 32-year-old candidate dubbed one of “Park Geun-hye’s kids,” does not put Park’s image or name on placards in the Busan election office. A senior official at Saenuri’s election situation room said the party has concluded that the era of attracting votes with Park’s name is over. The late President Kim Young-sam similarly had a 90 percent of approval rating in his initial years in office as president, but by the 15th National Assembly election campaign, held during his fourth year in office, his presence had palpably faded.
“Basically, ‘Park Geun-hye marketing’ was a strategy that arose from outdated regionalism and a halo effect surrounding the late President Park Chung-hee,” Lee Won-jong, former head of state affairs at the Kim Young-sam administration said, referring the former dictator and father of Park Geun-hye.
“But as traditional supporters have become disappointed by the pro-Park faction during the recent nomination process, such election strategies have lost all meaning.”
BY NAMkOONG WOOK, HYUN Il-HOON [firstname.lastname@example.org]