Our next President?
By Kang Hyun-kyung
The “election queen” is back in the spotlight. Park Geun-hye, interim head of the ruling Saenuri Party, proved to be a mighty leader and probably the most viable presidential hopeful at the moment.
Campaign watchers said the Wednesday election results took her a step closer to the presidency.
Park is unlikely to face formidable challengers from within as the Saenuri Party’s election results were strong, and the leadership test showed her reliability, confidence and influence in the largest party.
Few disagree that the daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee played a decisive role in making the ruling party’s “election drama” possible.
It retained majority status in the National Assembly by winning 152 parliamentary seats including proportional representatives out of the 300-member legislature. The Democratic United Party (DUP) won 127 and its ally, the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) gained 13 seats, while the Liberty Forward Party, a Chungcheong-based regional power, was reduced to a shadow of its former self with only five seats.
This means that the ruling party can pass most bills or motions on its own if all its members are united, as the quorum for the most requires support from 50 percent of lawmakers among those who are present.
Before the elections, few campaign watchers expected the Saenuri Party would receive such wide support from the general public after a series of scandals and corruption cases involving President Lee Myung-bak’s aides and relatives tarnished its image.
Park was called upon to assume the interim leadership last December when party support hit rock bottom.
In the elections, Park successfully contained the wave of support for aides of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun in the southeastern port city of Busan by allowing only two of the four Democratic United Party (DUP) candidates to gain victory.
The stronghold of the conservative party had shown signs of becoming a swing city after Moon Jae-in, a former presidential chief of staff under the Roh government, declared a bid to run in the Sasang district of Busan.
Moon, two other Roh aides and second-term lawmaker Cho Kyoung-tae of the DUP ran in Busan and tried to spread Roh nostalgia to snatch the conservative home turf located near Bonghwa, the hometown of the late president.
Initially Moon was viewed as the epicenter of a wave of support for change there. But the campaign to enhance Roh’s legacy turned out to be “a storm in a teacup” as among them, only Moon and Cho were successful.
Campaign analysts say allowing the DUP candidates to win only two out of four districts is a moderate success for Park, adding she successfully blocked the spread of support for Roh’s ex-aides.
Park, who has been called the election queen since 2004 for her successful campaigns for numerous lawmakers, had visited Busan five times during the campaign season.
Her bandaged right hand symbolized her determination. Park’s fingers were swollen at one point in the campaign season after she had shaken hands with so many supporters nationwide. Ahead of the elections, Park had been spotted with her right hand bandaged and was no longer able to shake hands.
The Saenuri Party also appealed to the hearts and minds of voters in the Gangwon and Chungcheong regions by garnering sweeping wins there.
Speaking to a press conference Thursday after it was pronounced to be the winner of the elections, Park said the party would live up to all commitments made during the campaign.
She said the party would focus on bread-and-butter issues after returning the party, which had been run by an interim body since last December, back to normal.
Her remarks were construed as meaning that the party will form a new leadership to prepare for the primary to select a presidential candidate to run in the December election on its ticket.
A party official said it will take at least a month to hold a contest to pick new leaders.
Before the news conference Park, accompanied by her aides and senior lawmakers of the ruling party, paid tribute to fallen soldiers at the national cemetery. It is a ritual for political leaders to drop by a memorial altar there in the wake of major national events, such as parliamentary elections.
In the visitors book set up near the front gate of the cemetery, she wrote that she would create a new Republic of Korea.
The short statement appears to indicate Park will focus all her energy and political capital on winning the ruling party primary and then the presidential poll to be held in December.