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GNP to kick off 2-week leadership race

Seven candidates have been confirmed for the Grand National Party leadership election on July 4 ― Reps. Park Jin, Nam Kyung-pil, Na Kyung-won, Yoo Seung-min, Hong Joon-pyo, Won Hee-ryeong and Kwon Young-se.

The lineup of hopefuls to be party chair is dominated by relatively young lawmakers.

Most are in their late 40s or early 50s. Even if 57-year-old Hong wins the vote, he may be considered a “young” chairman for the party.

The leadership election will be the largest ever, involving some 210,000 voters, and will also be regarded as a chance to turn the ruling party around. GNP support has plummeted in recent months.

Since the crushing defeat in the April by-elections the party has pledged to renew itself completely and to expand its support-base.

Amid these changes, younger lawmakers have gained sway within the party,

“Our party needs a leader who may act as a communication channel between seniors and juniors,” said Na.

Nam and Won made similar claims, looking to attract younger, reform-minded voters.

Hong, on the other hand, stressed his long-time expertise and his close personal ties with President Lee Myung-bak.

All members but Yoo are based in Seoul or Gyeonggi Province.

“It will be in the best interests of the party, especially in next year’s general election race, to have a Seoul-based chairperson,” said former floor leader Kim Moo-sung as he declined to run for leader.

Daegu-based Yoo, however, said the party’s new leader should be elected for his or her policies and not for the regional background.

Rep. Yoo, whose name is relatively less well-known to the public, is expected to win support from the pro-Park Geun-hye group.

The policy directions suggested by each of the forerunners have largely taken a reformative turn, despite varying in detail.

The most disputed issues included the proposed university tuition fee cut and free school meals.

Nam, who is regarded the most progressive of the seven, pledged 45 percent governmental support for tuition fees from next year and demanded an extensive withdrawal of additional corporate tax cuts.

Some observers argued that it was inappropriate for lawmakers to run for party leader after resigning from the party’s previous leadership.

Hong and Na were members of the former Supreme Council and Won the party’s secretary-general. All of them stepped down, taking the responsibility for the April defeat.

“Though the council, including myself, admitted our responsibility (for the by-election defeat), it is now crucial for our party to have an experienced person as its leader,” said Hong.

The registration process is to start on Thursday, after which candidates may campaign up until the day before the July 4 national convention, according to officials.

By Bae Hyun-jung (