President Lee Myung-bak and ruling Grand National Party Chairman Park Hee-tae will holding a meeting Wednesday in the wake of the partys crushing defeat in the April 29 parliamentary by-elections. The meeting, however, will produce no meaningful results without a fundamental shift in the way the presidential office and the ruling party perceive the situation they are facing. Presidential aides downplayed the defeat in all five constituencies that include areas in the Gyeongsang and Chungcheong provinces as well as regions around the capital. They say the by-elections are no more than village elections. This complacency is the main reason President Lee and the ruling party have failed to lift themselves out of political lethargy.
The ruling partys by-election debacle was no accident. Though the Gyeongju district is a stronghold of former party chief Park Geun-hye, the party nominated as its candidate Jeong Jong-bok, who lost in the last general elections. The defeat in Gyeongju became a foregone conclusion at the moment when the former chairwoman criticized the party for its attempt to urge a pro-Park candidate to drop out of the by-elections by calling the attempt a disgrace to the ruling partys politics. The ruling party showed its political incompetence by sticking to a candidate close to President Lees older brother Sang-deuk, while ignoring public sentiment in Gyeongju that is hostile to Pohang. The party also asked for trouble in the Bupyeong district of Incheon by belatedly fielding a candidate who has neither connection nor experience in the district. The by-elections plainly showed to the public the ruling partys incompetence and lack of strategies and tactics.
If President Lee wants to deal with state affairs successfully, he must exhibit comprehensive leadership that can embrace all factions. Close aides to the president, however, have acted only in the interest of their faction, aggravating the conflict between pro-Lee and pro-Park groups since the general elections last year. The partys failure to nominate more competitive figures than those who ran in the last by-elections and inclination to keep the party chairman despite the defeat attest to its lack of competent figures. In other words, the by-elections clearly showed that the ruling party is nothing more than a social gathering.
Worse, an internal strife happened in the National Assembly Thursday. Both the original and revised bills on financial holding companies were voted down. Certain ruling party lawmakers voted against the bills because they were disgruntled with the party floor leader for surrendering to the main opposition Democratic Party by amending a law on financial holding companies passed by a committee chairman affiliated with the ruling party. Do the government and the ruling party have any strategies at all? For his part, President Lee should share the blame because he has done nothing but complain about the ruling party for not helping him.
It is said nobody dares to bring up issues involving former party chairwoman Park in front of President Lee. This narrow perception resulted in the crushing by-election defeat and a loss of control over the administration. Considering the by-election for mayor of the southern Seoul suburb of Siheung, the ruling party went 0-6 in the by-elections. If the party fails to learn its lesson this time, it will face defeat in by-elections in October and local elections next year. The resignations of high-ranking party officials, including that of the party secretary-general, are not enough for a party revamp. Now is the time for the presidential office and ruling party get back to square one and chart completely new courses.