[Editorial] An ominous repeat of loyalty contest

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[Editorial] An ominous repeat of loyalty contest

The race to pick a new leader of the People Power Party (PPP) at the national convention slated for March 8 continues to generate shameful scenes. Former lawmakers Yoo Seong-min and Na Kyung-won unwillingly pulled themselves out of the race due to their stigma for being “disloyal” to President Yoon Suk Yeol. The contest is expected to be a horse race between Reps. Kim Gi-hyeon and Ahn Cheol-soo, both alleged loyalists to President Yoon.

What dominates the race is not platforms or visions to lead the governing party and country, but who is closer to the president. Disputes over who earned the “heart of Yoon” are turning more and more embarrassing each day. Candidates openly boast about having had dinner with Yoon or getting an invitation from the presidential office at Yongsan. They argue they have the “real” confidence from the president.

When Rep. Ahn pitched that he was running for the party leadership to help the president, Rep. Lee Chul-gyu proclaiming to be a loyalist to Yoon publicly accused Ahn of being a “imposter” by claiming to be Yoon’s man. Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun also bidding for the leadership position claimed he is “a genuine loyalist to Yoon.”

The PPP is sadly looking more like the past Saenuri Party when its members were divided into pro-Park Geun-hye and non-Park factions ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2016. At the time, the Saenuri Party, a predecessor of the PPP, was bisected totally based on the loyalty to then president Park Geun-hye and wasted all the energy entirely on the loyalty contest for Park. The governing conservative party ended up losing a majority due to its election defeat. If the loyalty race is revived, the PPP can repeat the sad history of its crushing defeats in the 2016 parliamentary elections and the 2024 elections.

A new PPP leadership has the duty to back the Yoon government’s ambitious reforms in education, labor and pension with cooperation from the majority Democratic Party (DP). If PPP candidates contest entirely based on their loyalty to Yoon instead of their own ability, the convention next month will be utterly shunned by the public and eligible voters.

The PPP must act in sync with the president. But the party leader must not serve as a legislative secretary for the president. The party must do its best to enact many government-proposed bills, but at the same time it must challenge any policies that do not reflect public wishes. If the leader is picked purely on the “loyalty” yardstick, national governance based on public sentiments cannot be expected from the PPP. Candidates must vie based on their policies and visions instead of their allegiance to the president.
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