Is President political baggage?
Park may keep Lee at arm’s length
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Will President Lee Myung-bak be political baggage or an asset to Park Geun-hye, leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, in her bid to become the next president?
Lee is so unpopular that the opposition alliance tried unsuccessfully to turn the April 11 National Assembly elections into a no-confidence vote on his administration. It is widely believed that the opposition’s poor campaigning saved the administration from more embarrassment.
However, this doesn’t mean, according to experts, that it will be easy for Park to ditch Lee, at least not for now; although she may feel tempted to distance herself as the Dec. 19 presidential election comes closer. They say Park wants the kind of relationship that can boost her yet-to-be-declared presidential bid, while not being not at the beck and call of the President.
Hahm Sung-deuk, a professor at Korea University in Seoul, said Park’s remarks on the spying scandal don’t mean that she will mobilize all the political capital she can to corner the lame duck President to rally support from voters.
Which strategy she chooses, the presidential leadership expert indicated, could make or break her bid.
Hahm said an anything-but-Lee posture is not a winning move, stating the daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee is likely to opt for a strategic approach when she seeks to distance herself from the unpopular Lee.
“It is too risky for her to discredit the incumbent President in all areas he is involved in, as this could risk her presidential ambition,” he said. “The parliamentary elections results showed conservative voters were united and turned out at the polling stations to vote for the ruling party. Therefore she won’t try to rock the boat as she knows this could do a disservice to her presidential bid.”
Analysts said the spying scandal is one of the areas that the head of the ruling party’s interim leadership committee will stand against Lee and try to make her voice heard.
The past and incumbent governments’ illegal surveillance of citizens is a prime example of Lee being vulnerable to fierce attacks from the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) if the blame game from within over the poor election results is resolved, they said.
After Wednesday’s elections, the DUP, which achieved relatively poor results, has seen a rift develop over who should lead the party. The post-election blame game is in full swing in the main opposition party, taking the form of a power struggle.
Hahm said Park’s focus on the spying scandal is a precautionary measure designed to contain negative fallout from opposition attacks in the future.
The presidential leadership expert said Park will try to selectively choose areas that she will stand against or side with the Lee government and then move on to rally supporters.
One member of the Saenuri Party indicated the ruling party will seek zero tolerance for any illicit activities or cases showing its members are ethically flawed.
In a radio program last Friday, Lee Sang-don, a member of the ruling party’s task force committee, elaborated the rationale of Park’s remarks against the illegal surveillance legislation.
Lee predicted that the opposition camp will sharpen its rhetoric against the President to woo voters as the presidential race is just eight months away.
“The Saenuri Party will have to cooperate with opposition parties on a case-by-case basis and depending on their nature, the conservative party could play hard ball (on any corruption cases),” the outspoken economist who has been critical of President Lee Myung-bak said.
The ChungAng University professor said although the Saenuri Party won the April 11 elections, the support rate for the party from those in their 30s and 40s was lower than that of the main opposition DUP.
The economist was optimistic that the ruling party would be able to gain the trust and support from the voters’ group if it stands firm against any illegal activity.
Earlier, Park emphasized that the ruling party would live up to its commitments, including anti-spying measures, made during the campaign season.
In a speech to voters in Busan in early April, she described herself as a victim of the past and incumbent administrations’ spying on citizens and called for an independent counsel to investigate the case thoroughly.
“The government is there to protect and stand by the people. Having said that, it is unbelievable and dead-wrong that the government spied on them and illegally watched their every move,” she said. “I was told that the previous and even incumbent government spied on me. Politics here is heading in the wrong direction. I need your support to bring change.”