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Defeat in Local Election to Accelerate Party Reform

Posted June. 12, 2002 00:05,   


The Grand National Party and the Millennium Democratic Party are scrambling to brace for post-election turmoil as they assess the results and the impact of the 6.13 local election.

Some in the parties suggest that party leaders resign if they lose, while others urging colleagues to rally behind their presidential candidate or push for political reform. Given the pre-election agitation, the fallout of the June 13 election is likely to be both sizable and far-reaching.


If it routs the ruling party as it expects, its presidential hopeful Lee Hoi-chang and his associates will have a tighter grip on the party. And even if the party fails to win a landslide victory, any major reshuffling seems unlikely now that Lee has already boosted his standing.

They rather fear their major victories in some areas where they are ahead might spark a shakeout in a broader sense. Once MDP leadership falls into disarray, it will most likely lead to major reform, which will in turn send ripple effects outside the party.

Relationship with the United Liberal Democrats also remains as a key issue. Its winning Daejeon mayor race, if ever, is expected to accelerate dissolution of ULD, but the party has yet to decide how to cope with such development. While some hardliners calling for `consolidation,` others remain cautious lest the merger reminds the people of the old tactic of joining force.

Within the party, fractious groups could wage a tug of war to hold major posts and exercise more influence. In fact, a chasm already began to appear between the center-right fraction centering on party president Suh Chung-won and the more conservative camp, as they compete over such key posts as general secretary and election committee members.


Morale is much lower in the ruling party, and worries are running high about internal fights after a loss. To ease such concerns, party president Han Hwa-gap said in a press interview on June 11, "I was not able to commit myself fully to local elections, running in presidential nomination race and then party president race. And I will take responsibility for my own failure, if any." Presidential candidate Roh also emphasized he knows that he will face a no-confidence vote if the party loses in Youngnam race.

The mainstream fraction at the helm is weighing as to how they will survive the no-confidence vote and calls for resignation if the party loses in the metropolitan areas. In particular, a crushing defeat in the upcoming election will most likely be followed by a call for resignation of party leaders including president Han. They are pinning hopes, however, on winning the metropolitan races, which will give a boost to presidential candidate Roh`s call for across-the-board reform.

On the other hand, even if they are routed, junior lawmakers backing Roh and Han will be able to spur the reform drive since they will see the lack of reform as a culprit. Then, internal strife within MDP can serve as a driving force of political reform by coalescing fractious forces.


Party leaders are worrying that a defeat in Daejeon mayor race will provoke a series of defections. Reflecting the growing concern, president Kim Jong-pil referred Chungcheong-do as `being too naive` on June 10, and warned on the following day of `a crisis in Chungcheong.`

If it wins in Daejeon, however, it will have a casting vote-like role through the presidential election campaigns, buying itself time to seek alliances. "Kim hopes to leverage the party`s influence by keeping three governor posts in Chungcheong area. It seems inevitable for some to leave the party, however, if we fail to do so," said an aide to Kim.

Young-Chan Yoon Yeon-Wook Jung yyc11@donga.com jyw11@donga.com