Hong has much to proveVeteran conservative politician and South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo on Friday was elected to run as the flag-bearer for the Liberty Korea Party, the former ruling party still reeling from the scandal of former President Park Geun-hye who was removed from office and currently placed behind bars before trial on corruption charges.
The party’s primary was boisterous with in-house struggles between members still loyal to Park and those trying to distinguish themselves from the disgraced president. Hong is an outspoken critic of Park, and his victory may have quenched any hopes for the revival of her supporters. Hong must try to regain confidence from the conservatives and set a new direction for them.
Hong called for the reuniting of the rightists. He may start courting other centrists and conservative members to form a joint front to challenge the liberals who are in a comfortable lead following the fall of Park. The mating and alliance move is unsurprising, given the gap with frontrunner Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party (DP). But the process must gain public interest and support. A reckless union for the sake of winning the presidential race won’t be enough to persuade the public.
Hong vowed to recreate the conservative party. But regaining public confidence won’t be that easy. When they supported the impeachment of the president, the people have turned their back not only on Park, but also on the corrupt mainstream that blindly followed her orders for selfish gains. The party is still heavily under the influence of Park and her clan. The party gets just half of the support ratio of the liberal DP in its traditional stronghold of Daegu and North Gyeongsang.
Although the party has lost its ruling status due to the removal of Park, the Liberal Korea Party holds the second largest seats, nearly 100, in the legislative after the DP. It cannot win back the skeptical voters by selling the former president or through a slander campaign.
Mudslinging and controversial comments could draw an ugly spotlight, but Hong must not expect a Trump-like upset from Korean voters. He must instead be true to the traditional values of the conservatives that prize morality, civility and responsibility. He must demonstrate how he can be serviceable and devoted to the nation’s revival and future.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 3, Page 26