The Korea Herald


Lee, Park to tackle reform in ruling party

By Song Sangho

Published : May 22, 2011 - 20:36

    • Link copied

Meeting comes as factional strife looms large, party licks post-election wounds

The meeting between President Lee Myung-bak and former Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye, scheduled for this week, is drawing keen attention as the rare talks are to come amid the party’s efforts for reform.

The ruling party has been seeking measures to revamp itself and shore up public trust since its by-election loss last month. The loss has stoked fears over the party’s prospects for general elections slated for next April.

Park’s meeting with the president is ostensibly to brief him on the results of her recent 11-day visit to the Netherlands, Portugal and Greece as a special presidential envoy.

But political watchers believe that an array of party issues, including factional divisions and her role in stabilizing the party, will be on the table.

The meeting will be the first since last August for Lee and Park, who commands the loyalty of nearly a third of GNP lawmakers.

Observers say that their talks could deal largely with how to renovate the party and how she can contribute to that.

Since the electoral defeat, calls have been mounting for Park to take center stage in a bid to put the party back on track. But many expect that she will not resume full-scale political activities anytime soon.

Park, who currently is leading in all polls among presidential hopefuls, has largely kept a low profile regarding political issues. Critics say she is too cautious in her words and behavior to avoid unnecessary setbacks on her path toward Cheong Wa Dae.

Although she has indicated that she will not run in the GNP leadership contest set for July 4, Park will not remain silent over party reform efforts, lawmakers close to Park told media.

Observers also noted that during the meeting they could discuss ways to enhance harmony and unity in the GNP, which has been suffering from factional divisions since the president took office in 2008.

The party has been split into several factions, including one loyal to Park and another supportive of Lee.

After the electoral failure, a group of young lawmakers sought to ally with the pro-Park faction while the pro-Lee faction was apparently divided into two small groups ― one led by Rep. Lee Sang-deuk, the president’s elder brother and the other led by Special Affairs Minister Rep. Lee Jae-oh.

In his breakfast meeting with GNP leaders last week, the president called on them to dissolve all factions and focus on crafting fresh measures that could appeal to the public and win back their hearts.

Meanwhile, a heated factional debate over how to elect its new leadership is expected in a general meeting of the party lawmakers and members, scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

The major bone of contention is whether to revise a regulation that bans the party leader from running for a presidential election.

Park has recently voiced opposition to the revision while other GNP presidential hopefuls such as former GNP chairman Chung Mong-joon has supported it.

Some observers said that taking the helm of the party could be a risky choice for Park as any failure to perform well as a leader, particularly in next year’s general elections, could hurt her chances of clinching the presidency.

Chung and others argued that all capable figures should be given a chance to lead the party especially when the party is in a difficult situation.

After the by-election defeat, the GNP formed an emergency ad-hoc committee to steer the party until the new leadership is elected in the national convention in July.

By Song Sang-ho (