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Becoming Yardstick for Next Year’s Presidential Election
Ruling GNP’s former leader Park Geun-hye is throwing down the gauntlet with clouds gathering over the biggest opposition Democratic Party and independent candidates capitalizing on its dwindling weight.
Becoming Yardstick for Next Year’s Presidential Election
  • By matthew
  • November 1, 2011, 09:51
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In the competition to select a single pan-opposition candidate for the upcoming Seoul mayoral election, the Democratic Party having the history of six decades lost out to an independent candidate who ran for the mayor less than one month ago. The party is entirely dumbfounded for sure.

Son Hak-gyu, the party’s representative, has said that the intra-party ballot was the very starting point of a transfer of power and a litmus test for the presidential election scheduled for next year. It is assumed that the election will entail a candidate unification process akin to that of now. With the situation as it is, the representative’s defeat is likely to cast a cloud over his journey to presidency, not to mention his presence in his own party.

It is being pointed out that the head, since taking office, has weakened the strength of the Democratic Party by going after a united opposition front. They are claiming that the party’s pursuit of a single nominee during recent races has led only to more powerful minor parties and civic groups.

Meanwhile, others are saying that Moon Jae-in, chairman of the board of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation and another influential contender, benefitted the greatest from the leadership campaign. According to them, he is an independent candidate, just like Seoul National University dean Ahn Cheol-soo and lawyer Park Won-soon, with his base of political support somewhat overlapping with theirs. The predicament on Repre-sentative Son would be rather more likely to be beneficial to Moon.

It seems that the representative has begun to think of lawmaker Park Yeong-seon, who was the Democratic Party’s candidate for Seoul mayor, as his avatar or something, as the majority of those affiliated with the organization of “Innovation and Integration” led by chairman Moon were found to be on Park Won-soon’s side,” said a high-ranking party official.

Democratic Party with Decreasing Presence

As stated above, there is a criticism that the Democratic Party itself is compromising. The party was defeated last year during the Gyeonggi Provincial governor election by the Participation Party headed by Yoo Shi-min. In addition, it was on the losing end against Lee Bong-soo of the same party at the April 27 by-election in Gimhae City, South Gyeongsang Pro-vince. The party has continued its losing streak, and was driven to the ugly situation of failing to even put up a candidate as the biggest opposition party of the country.

Some have translated this as a breakdown of the established party system, claiming it is not only because of a slip by the Democratic Party, but the public’s reproach regarding the entire political circle, including the ruling Grand National. “Our party was blamed through the nomination ahead of the Lee Myung-bak Administration,” said a Democratic Party leader, adding, “The people’s distrust in politicians took the shape of the Ahn Cheol-soo syndrome and it turned Park Won-soon into the one to lead the opposition. Nominee selection is more about their condemnation of the political establishment than affection for the lawyer.”

Ruling Party Candidate Falling Behind Her Opposition Counterpart

Meanwhile, lawyer Lee Seok-hyeon declared on September 28 that he had dropped out of the Seoul mayoral by-election scheduled for October 26. Lee was the poster child for conservative civil groups. Under such circumstances, GNP Supreme Council member Na Gyeong-won has become the sole candidate for the ruling party. However, according to a series of opinion polls, she is having a hard time catching up with lawyer Park representing the opposition.

Therefore, the GNP’s last resort is former representative Park Geun-hye, who rolled up her sleeves and turned the tables in previous battles when things were going badly for the party.

The former leader and the group affiliated with her are dead set to win the next presidential election. As such, they will want to avoid any obstacles that could prevent this. It was in this context that she remained negative about the free lunch referendum in Seoul City which sowed the seeds for this special election. Park is planning to set forth welfare expansion as her main pledge for next year. The popular vote former Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon pushed ahead with was the opposite to her stance.

The faction seems to be concerned about the possibility of losing the Seoul mayoral by-election and imperiling her popularity, believing conditions for the vote are already unfavorable. However, it is unlikely that things will unfold as Park’s followers wish given that the Ahn Cheol-soo syndrome has shaken the former leader, someone thought to have been invincible for the past three years.

Former GNP Representative Stepp-ing Forward

Park met with reporters on October 6 and said that she would lend her support to her party for the October 26 by-election. Though having refrained form making a detailed comment about whether or how she would join the other elections, she is expected to be touring the nation in order to buttress her colleagues. In short, the daughter of former president Park Jeong-hee has made her comeback in three years and nine months.

“I stepped aside so that the government and ruling party could do their job freely and well, but what I encounter today is a crisis threatening the entire political system, not just the GNP,” she remarked, adding, “Of course, I don’t mean that party politics should be discarded.” What she means is that she would be the one to spearhead the toilsome transformation of the party, with dissatisfaction for the existing one rising fast among those in their twenties and thirties.

“I see the determination and resolution she showed back in 2004, when she was bending over backwards to rebuild the party from the aftermath of the campaign fund investigation and the impeachment of the late Roh Moo-hyun,” said a member of the faction. At that time, she used to sleep for just two to three hours a day, and suffered from swollen hands.

She told reporters that the by-election is no groundwork for the presidential race next year. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the result will influence the general and presidential elections next year as all of the potential candidates of the opposition, including Son Hak-gyu and Moon Jae-in, are rushing in. Park Geun-hye has not participated in nationwide campaigns since 2007. If she turns up this time, there is no reason to doubt that she is getting herself ready for the presidency.

Twitter Utilized as Campaign Tool in Recent Elections

Twitter played a significant role yet again in the opposition’s open primary on October 3 for the Seoul mayoral election.

The watersheds were the electoral college survey (30% reflection) and general public survey (30% reflection). Lawyer Park Won-soon had been more adept to availing himself of social networking sites leading up to the nomination. He opened his schedule on those sites and put out word-of-mouth ads there during his election campaign. A Democratic Party figure even remarked that SNS appears more powerful than traditional channels. Park did not flinch at all at the competition of citizens’ participation in the open primary (40% reflection) vis-a-vis the rent-a-crowd by the Democratic Party’s district chapters, either. In particular, Twitter has become a new way of political campaigning since the regional election of June 2, 2010, attracting young voters in their twenties and thirties very effectively. The most recent battle was no exception, of course. Many young people, including socially prominent ones, continued the fad of taking a snapshot at a polling station and posting it on Twitter to show his or her participation as a responsible voter.

“We were lagging behind the number one opposition party as far as organizational power was concerned and thus we adopted the strategy of attracting swing voters to the maximum extent possible, during which Twitter played an important role,” said one of Park Won-soon’s aides, adding, “To be sure, this past election was significant in various aspects, and one of those would be the fact that the newest method of rallying support has transformed itself into a sort of widespread cultural phenomenon.”