Lawmakers are jockeying for position ahead of party nominations, though eight long months are left until the next general elections. Some are abandoning their existing constituencies in search of new electoral districts. Others are jumping ship in factional regrouping.
But these efforts to enhance their chances of being nominated again should not come as a surprise. All members of the National Assembly have to compete against new political aspirants who have strived to develop a rapport with the party’s grass roots since the last elections in April 2008. For incumbents, all roads lead to reelection.
It is not just individual lawmakers that have started to warm up for the fray. Rival political parties have also started to lay the groundwork for a fierce fight against each other to win control of the National Assembly. The battle will be all the bloodier because the winner will certainly be given a leg up in the presidential election scheduled for December next year.
At this stage, the liberal opposition Democratic Party has undoubtedly gotten off to a better start than the ruling Grand National Party, which is embroiled in seemingly never-ending factional strife. Some incumbent and former lawmakers affiliated with the opposition party are vowing to abandon their constituencies, where nomination means automatic reelection, and make a fresh start in electoral districts where they may have to fight an uphill battle.
Among them is Rep. Kim Hyo-seok, a three-term lawmaker, who recently declared he would give up his constituency in South Jeolla Province, one of the near invincible strongholds for the opposition party, and run in a district in Seoul’s metropolitan areas. He joined Rep. Chung Sye-gyun, a former leader of the party from North Jeolla Province, who had committed himself in 2009 to running in a Seoul district when the next parliamentary elections come around.
There are others who are offering to run in districts where they have slim, if ever, chances of winning elections, such as those in the southeastern part of the nation ― the Yeongnam region. Of course, some of them are doing so apparently because they believe they stand little chance of being nominated in their districts next time.
The decision by the lawmakers to come out of their cocoons, put their political career on the block and meet new challenges in not-so-friendly or even hostile districts is pressuring the party’s big shots to follow suit. This fresh development will certainly help the party regain vitality, shaking off the euphoria of having won the April 27 parliamentary and local by-elections. It will also help the party take in new blood, which it badly needs to renew its resolve to defeat the conservative ruling party again.
Moreover, the lawmakers, by expressing their willingness to vacate their own electoral districts, are doing the party leadership a great favor ― one which it desperately needs but dares not to ask for. The main opposition party needs to yield some electoral districts in its main support base Honam ― the southwestern part of the nation ― to smaller opposition parties if it is to ally itself or merge with any of them, as it intends, for the parliamentary and presidential elections.
Unlike in the opposition, the mood is somber in the factional strife-ridden Grand National Party, whose new leader, Rep. Hong Jun-pyo, had to squander more than a week in picking one of his cronies as the party’s secretary-general in the face of stiff opposition from two rival factions ― one for President Lee Myung-bak and the other for Rep. Park Geun-hye, a former party leader. The factions demanded that a neutral lawmaker be selected to the post, suspecting Rep. Hong of attempting to exercise what they regard as undue influence through his proxy in determining whom to nominate. Though Rep. Hong managed to have his own way on Tuesday, the two factions were still opposed to his decision.
The ruling party is regrettably embroiled in factional strife at a time when it has a greater need for fresh faces than the opposition. A simple comparison shows why: The ruling party has 19 lawmakers who have been elected in Yeongnam three times or more, compared with 10 such opposition party heavyweights from Honam.