Obstinance isn’t prettyFour-term lawmaker Choi Kyung-hwan — former deputy prime minister for the economy and a core member of the pro-Park Geun-hye faction in the ruling Saenuri Party — has declared he will not run for chairman in the August 9 national convention. It’s not clear whether he made the decision on his own or after consultating with the Blue House. Whatever the case, we welcome the step given Choi’s responsibility for the party’s crushing defeat in the April 13 general election.
The Saenuri Party had to face voters’ outrage because of the dirty fights between the pro-Park group and the less loyal group over nominations for the election. Pro-Park forces went so far as to deny lawmakers with no affiliations with President Park of the opportunity to compete, as clearly seen in the case of Rep. Yoo Seong-min, then-floor leader of the party, who had to run independently in his district in Daegu. That undoubtedly caused the Saenuri’s overwhelming losses in the election.
Nevertheless, the pro-Park faction showed no contrition and continued its domination of the embattled party. The group could not avoid the accusation that they are going to hand over the reins of power to the opposition in the 2017 presidential election.
The Saenuri Party must take Choi’s action as an opportunity to revitalize it. Pro-Park lawmakers must disband their faction and transform the national convention into a contest for party leadership solely based on individual legislators’ competence, not on connections to the president.
Otherwise, a colossal defeat is inevitable for the party. If the party simply ends up crowning eight-term lawmaker Suh Chung-won, leader of the pro-Park faction, as chairman, that would be its worst-ever decision, not to mention the squandering of any opportunity to regain voters’ trust.
President Park also must change her appointment style based on lawmakers’ loyalty and her reliance on a very small pool of people. Those loyalists may have helped her govern over the past three and half years. However, as a lame duck with only one and half year left in office, the president will surely be surrounded by lawmakers who have to survive on their own. That calls for a change in Park’s governing style if she really wants to maintain her leadership.
The president is set to have a luncheon at the Blue House with all of the Saenuri lawmakers. If she could declare a horizontal relationship with the party — and embrace Rep. Yoo and former chairman Kim Moo-sung — the ruling party can turn crisis into an opportunity. The president also may be able to shake her reputation as the obstinate president.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 7, Page 30