Send to

Strengths and weaknesses of GNP runners

June 27, 2011 - 18:59 By 배현정
(from left) Park Jin, Nam Kyung-pil, Hong Joon-pyo, Na Kyung-won, Yoo Seong-min, Won Hee-ryong, Kwon Young-se

Support of Park Geun-hye faction expected to hold critical sway in election

With the ruling Grand National Party’s internal elections to select its new chair less than a week away, the seven candidates are making their cases as to why they should lead the party through next year’s big races.

Following the national campaign tour last week, the candidates are to participate in television debates this week to present their campaign pledges.

A large part of their campaign pledges are related to former chairperson Park Geun-hye, one of the frontrunners for next year’s presidential election.

Also, all have refrained from making direct statements on controversial issues such as university tuition cuts.

The candidate list includes fourth-term lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo, third-termers Nam Kyung-pil, Park Jin, Won Hee-ryeong and Kwon Young-se, as well as second-term lawmakers Na Kyung-won and Yoo Seong-min.

Amid the party’s determination for total renewal, Nam recently rose as an ace card as he has long been known for his reformative inclination and factional neutrality.

He, along with the newly rising reformative in-party group, has often voiced the young and progressive opinion within the party and largely appealed to younger voters in their 40s or younger.

His strength came as a relief to the party, which has faced an internal crisis since its crushing defeat in the April by-elections.

However, some observers expressed concerns that a reform-inclined 46-year-old leader may drive away the traditional conservative supporters of the party or that he may not be equipped with the necessary leadership.

His political neutrality may act as a double-bladed sword as it may win him the votes from the younger and liberal pool but may also break up the potential support from in-party groups.

His powerful opponent, Hong Joon-pyo, is a high-profile public figure who is expected to win extensive support from the voter pool.

The former prosecutor is renowned for his determined leadership and outspoken expressions, which have won him a reputation as a troubleshooter, especially in times of sharp conflict.

Also, the party’s extended voter pool, which increased to 210,000 people this year, is to act as an advantage to Hong, whose political character is strongly imprinted on the public’s mind.

On the other hand, some in-party observers noted that his blunt attitude may have won him the heart of the liberal public but cost him the support from within the party, as many doubted his ability to consolidate the party as one.

Also, the fact that he was a leading member of the party’s former Supreme Council, which stepped down to take responsibility of the April by-election defeat, may act against him.

“The former Supreme Council resigned in response to the people’s call,” said Nam.

“It is ironic that those who pledged to ‘take responsibility’ irresponsibly stepped out to take power.”

The same logic applies to Na Kyung-won, the sole female candidate among the seven and also a former Supreme Council member.

Despite her relatively short career as a lawmaker, Na is gaining the support both from the general public and conservatives, including the pro-Lee Myung-bak field.

In most of the recent public surveys, Na’s name was ranked atop of the list, together with Hong.

Her greatest obstacle, however, is her gender, even as Rep. Park Geun-hye looks a serious contender to be the nation’s first female president.

Na has claimed that being a female party leader may lay groundwork for a female president, it is doubtful that the pro-Park group will back her in next week’s race.

Won Hee-ryong, another relatively young member, drew public attention by refraining from becoming a candidate in the next general elections, pledging to focus on the role as chairman.

He, however, also faced the blame as the party’s former secretary-general, who stepped down along with the Supreme Council.

Third-termer Park Jin, who defeated Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu of the main opposition Democratic Party in the last general election, underlines his strong bases in Jongno, central Seoul.

His constituency background came as an advantage as the party pledged to prioritize the Seoul and Gyeonggi areas in next year’s races.

His political weakness, however, is his past involvement in the years-long Park Yeon-cha scandal, for which he was fined 800,000 won ($736).

Kwon Young-se, another rather neutral candidate, emphasized his policy congeniality with Park Geun-hye.

The one to actually win the support of the pro-Park group may be the Daegu-lawmaker Yoo Seong-min, the only candidate whose political base is not in the Seoul and Gyeonggi area.

As a former acting member of the pro-Park camp, he is expected to win a significant number of insiders’ votes, though his name is yet unfamiliar to the public, observers said.

The GNP’s national convention, in which the chairperson election is to take place, will begin on Monday morning next week.

By Bae Hyun-jung (