Park’s power wanes
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon got 12.1 percent of support last August among possible presidential contenders for the next election. Yet that score plummeted to 6.2 percent in April this year. In August last year, he was ranked at the top of the list of presidential contenders. His support has halved in less than a year: What happened?
After he was re-elected to a third term as Seoul mayor in June last year, he spent the summer at the rooftop room of a house in Samyang-dong. Since then, his popularity dropped. His promise to develop Yeouido and Yongsan was the starting point. It was a pledge to develop the center of Seoul despite the Moon Jae-in administration’s relentless campaign to lower housing prices. Park ended up withdrawing the entire project.
He then clashed with Kim Boo-kyum — then minister of the interior and a potential rival in the next presidential election — over a plan to redevelop Gwanghwamun Square. Because the blueprint of the redesign included a plan to relocate a statute of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, Park faced heated criticism. Furthermore, as redevelopment plans for Cheonggyecheon and Euljiro included plans to tear down several historic restaurants, Park changed the plan to preserve them. They were mistakes committed because he was obsessed with leaving a legacy as a prominent presidential contender.
A while ago, I watched a forum by liberals Ryu Si-min, Yang Jeong-cheol and Kim Eo-jun. Park’s potential rival Ryu, a former minister of health and welfare and current head of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, was prominent. He captivated the audience with sharp criticism of the Liberty Korea Party and the conservatives.
A few out-of-the-blue questions from Kim during their talks were also impressive. Although they were discussing Roh Moo-hyun — the very topic of the event — Kim asked Ryu when he would declare his presidential bid. Ryu had publicly said that he wouldn’t run, but Kim asked the question over and over during the 50-minute broadcast. Ryu, of course, said he wouldn’t run.
Yet it seems that Ryu’s declaration to not run was actually helping raise his popularity. He was giving the impression that he is not obsessed with power. I was reminded of Seoul Mayor Park. Ryu’s popularity is actually higher than that of Park. The latter is obsessed with his mayoral legacy, while Ryu is using a very different tactic to win: he’s giving up.
What caused Park’s decline? Experts said he was in too much of a rush to present an achievement. Although he won the post three times, he does not have much political experience. He was never a lawmaker.
The Seoul mayor is basically an administrator. Because he has never worked in the National Assembly, his connection to the ruling party is naturally weak. The ruling party lawmakers who are not close to him said they don’t consider Park a family member.
Park was also criticized for having walked only a smooth road. He won three mayoral elections without any hardship. He was lucky, but it is unfortunate that he did not have a story to tell or any ordeals to show as a politician.
As such, some opposed his bid for the third time at the mayoral race. They said Park must choose a rugged path such as a bid to win the chairmanship of the party to become a stronger presidential contender.
At the time, President Moon’s close aide Kim Kyung-soo recommended Park run in the South Gyeongsang Governor election. Kim tried to persuade Park by saying he needed to strengthen his base in his hometown in South Gyeongsang. Kim also told Park that he needed to make a sacrifice for the party as a presidential contender. Yet Park refused. As a result, Kim ran for the post and won.
“Mayor Park should not have run for the third term. He should have presented an agenda for the country by staying outside the Seoul government, but he was obsessed with running the metropolitan government,” said a senior member of the ruling party.
Approval ratings fluctuate all the time. Park said this earlier this year, and he is right. Particularly, supporters of the ruling party hope for President Moon’s success. Therefore, they prefer Moon’s associates such as Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon or Ryu Si-min. That also means their popularity will likely decline when Moon’s approval rating drops later in his term.
I hope Park engages in politics rather than endeavoring to accomplish something. If he has any strength, he needs to show it to the people. If he tries to compete with career politicians, he’ll have no advantages.
As Park is too preoccupied with the presidential election, his choices are confused. He needs a new idea. He must realize his shortcomings and overcome them one after another.
In the end, he must pay attention to the zeitgeist. A candidate who can meet the demands of the times wins in the presidential election. Mayor Park must do the politics he wanted to do and wait for the time’s calling. Three years is not a short period of time.