Anything but Lee
Governing party takes on flexible conservatism
It is ironic for the governing party to adopt the “anything but its predecessor’s” policies. The ruling Grand National Party is moving to centrist conservatism as its platform.
The party will prioritize welfare over growth although it is emphasizing a virtuous cycle of growth and welfare. It is deleting the economic modernization President Lee Myung-bak has pursued, a euphemism for the growth-first, pro-conglomerate policy.
It backs an active involvement of the government in the market for precluding market failures, a departure from Lee’s small government upholding the autonomy of the market.
The party will become more flexible than now in its North Korea policy. It has removed reform of the communist country as a precondition for inter-Korean dialogue and aid. It will provide active assistance to the North so that it can become a responsible member of the international community.
Despite its flexibility, it retains a code that the party will make efforts to improve the human rights of North Koreans. While the priority and visibility may be lower than now, it will continue to advocate the unification of the Koreas under the principle of liberal democracy and market economy. Its focus will be on helping North Koreans live a decent life through support. It distances itself from President Lee’s hawkish North Korea policy. The party does not mention anything about the North’s nuclear program.
The party will remain as a force advocating conservative values, but makes it clear that it will not become a hostage to the ideological trap.
The changes reflect the philosophy of the party’s de facto leader and strong presidential candidate Park Geun-hye. She is more flexible than Lee in North Korea policy. She is less also conservative than the President. She will give up Lee’s business-friendly policy, also a euphemism for pro-conglomerate policy. She has doubts over the trickle-down effect of growth and advocates a proactive government role in distributing the pie of economic success.
The new platform will disappoint many traditional right-of-center conservatives, but embrace many middle-of-the-road voters.
The party will even change its name. With its popularity at a nadir, it is seeking to embrace ideologies the opposition Democratic United Party espouses.
Its centrist conservatism will embolden the opposition to move further to the left in its ideological orientation.
The governing party’s facelift reflects the shifting sentiment of the public. It also reflects the unpopularity of President Lee in the twilight period of his time in office. The conservative wave is on the ebb in Korea, just as liberalism hit the floor four years ago.
In past by-elections, including the Seoul mayoral contest, the GNP lost. The consensus is that it will lose in the parliamentary contest in April.
The party has an image problem. It must codify rejection of cronyism and nepotism and bribe-prone lawmakers. Lee spoiled his presidency for his bigotry of installing his aged cronies and confidants in key posts. Image is sometimes more important than ideology in this multimedia age.