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[Editorial] Party in turmoil

Rival factions in the ruling Grand National Party have papered over their disagreements on who should represent the party now ― the floor leader or the chairman of the emergency committee on reform. But a similar conflict may surface anytime, as the power struggle, triggered by the party’s defeat in the April 27 parliamentary by-elections, is most likely to intensify in the months ahead.

In the wake of the by-elections, young lawmakers mounted a campaign against the mainstreamers ― those close to President Lee Myung-bak. They scored a win when they elected Hwang Woo-yea, a non-mainstreamer, to the post of floor leader in an alliance with a faction of lawmakers supporting Rep. Park Geun-hye, a former chair of the party. They won another victory when they forced the chairman and members of the Supreme Council to resign, holding them accountable for the electoral outcome.

The conflict over the leadership question was another round of the power struggle. The floor leader laid claim to the interim leadership pending the party’s next national congress. The party’s secretariat endorsed his assertion. The young Assembly members won the battle when the chairman of the party’s emergency committee, launched by the Supreme Council, failed to overturn the secretariat’s decision.

The power struggle under way is nothing but a proxy war for President Lee and his detractors, including Rep. Park, who has set her sights on the next presidency. But Lee, whose power is destined to slip through his fingers as he nears the end of his five-year term in office, is undoubtedly fighting a losing battle.

Like some of his predecessors, Lee used to say there would be no lame-duck status until his final day in office. His remark is understandable. Who would like to lose his grip on power?

But it will be a matter of when, not if, he loses his influence on the party. Many of its members will rally behind a presidential hopeful who they believe will lead the party through the parliamentary elections in April next year.

Who knows if Lee, just like some of his predecessors, will be forced to renounce his party membership? They were shown the door when they were considered to be an obstacle to winning the upcoming parliamentary elections.

To his chagrin, Lee’s tight grip on the administration will eventually loosen. A power shift is inevitable. It should not come as a surprise if his protgs leave him in pursuit of election to the National Assembly. Undoubtedly, many senior officials of the administration will attempt to create connections with those who they believe have the greatest chance of being elected president in December 2012.

In this regard, Lee may well heed advice from Rep. Park Jie-won of the opposition Democratic Party, who had been loyal to former President Kim Dae-jung not just until his final day in office but until his death. Park says, “Nothing is permanent in politics. Even those who have been given the most favors (by the president) will abandon him in the end. That’s why I often say, ‘The enemy of the man in power is his closest confidant, and that of a chaebol is someone of his own blood.’

It is about time President Lee abandoned the idea of continuing to control the party through Rep. Lee Jae-oh and other proxies and respected the party’s opinion on key issues of legislation. In other words, he needs to reset his relations with the party.

A good opportunity in this regard will come soon, as he is scheduled to meet Rep. Lee and Rep. Park when he returns home from Europe on Sunday. He should not waste this opportunity if he wishes to avoid a collision.
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