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[Editorial] Party in crisis?

Bundang B in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, has been a conservative electoral district. One of Seoul’s wealthy suburbs, it has been carried by the ruling Grand National Party in the past. Is the conservative ruling party assured of another win in the April 27 parliamentary by-election?

The answer is hardly, as evidenced by the latest opinion poll. The liberal Democratic Party’s chairman, Sohn Hak-kyu, led his opponent, Kang Jae-sup, a former leader of the ruling party, in an April 1 opinion poll, though within the margin of error.

Pollsters are cautious in predicting the outcome of the forthcoming vote. They should be, given that polls have in the past proved to be wrong more often than not. Quite a few respondents are not forthright in replying. Another problem arises from voter turnout.

As pollsters say, the Bundang B electoral outcome will be determined by how many from each of the two ideologically divided groups will actually go to the polls. Indeed, Sohn’s lead within the margin of error can be easily upset if the past voting pattern should repeat itself: a lower turnout among the young voters who tend to be more liberal than conservative.

Still, quite a few pollsters say the opposition leader has a chance of defeating his rival. One of them suspects that many of those who refused to respond to opinion polls were Sohn supporters.

Whether to win or lose the election, however, should not be too much of a concern to the ruling party, which holds 171 seats in the 299-member National Assembly. But it is. Morale is low among lawmakers of the ruling party. They wonder if the drop in the party’s popularity in Bundang B is the bellwether for the 2012 general elections.

The ruling party is in crisis if the self-diagnosis is correct. Rep. Kim Moo-sung, floor leader of the party, says the party is in deep trouble. He says, “An enormous crisis is sweeping us. At a time when people are turning their back to us, the administration insists there is no problem, citing booming exports and favorable economic indicators.” He says his party, if no action is taken, will lose the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.

Rep. Kim’s diagnosis is shared by other lawmakers in leadership positions. Rep. Chung Mong-joon, a former party chairman, says, “Some say the president is in crisis. But it is our party that is in crisis, which is more accurate to say.”

True, exports are rising rapidly and various indicators show that the Korean economy is in good shape, when compared with many others. Still, almost two-thirds of Koreans feel they are worse off now than when President Lee Myung-bak was inaugurated three years ago.

They have good reason to complain. On one hand, an increase in exports does not improve the quality of life substantially because it does not translate into as many jobs as in the past. On the other, rising prices are eating into their real income rapidly. Another serious problem is a surge in home rents in Seoul’s metropolitan areas.

The administration made the right decision when it abandoned a planned project to build an international airport in South Gyeongsang Province because it would lose money when completed. Still, it does not endear the administration and the ruling party to provincial residents. On the contrary, it hurts them. Damage may have been controlled if the action had been taken when an evaluation determined more than a year ago that the project would not be viable.

No wonder President Lee’s approval rating is declining. But his administration should keep in mind that there is no quick fix. What it needs to do is take time and deal with all the problems before the parliamentary elections are held next April.
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