The presidential office is at odds with the ruling Grand National Party, which is abandoning much of its conservative tenet ahead of next year’s elections. But it has few tools to use against the move.
Fatigue is settling among presidential aides, who find it virtually impossible to force the party to toe the line, unlike at the outset of President Lee Myung-bak’s administration. They apparently feel helpless as the ruling party is attempting to co-opt the opposition by embracing many of its liberal policies.
A case in point is the party’s recent decision to push for cutting university tuition fees up to 30 percent by 2014. It apparently wanted to steal the show when it announced the decision on Thursday, four days ahead of Lee’s talks with the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, who has long championed half-priced tuition.
Lee repeatedly expressed his opposition to the DP’s proposal, but he acquiesced to include the issue among the agenda items at the demand of DP leader Sohn Hak-kyu.
The presidential office acknowledged it had called on the ruling party’s leadership to delay the announcement until after the Lee-Sohn talks on Monday morning. A presidential spokesman said on the record, however, that it was only natural for the ruling party to be eager to present an alternative to the opposition’s demand.
Another case of dissent involves the ruling party’s decision to roll back tax cuts for wealthy people and businesses in accommodation of a demand from the liberal opposition party. The ruling party promises to submit a bill to abolish tax cuts scheduled for next year ― which would reduce the highest income tax rate from 35 percent to 33 percent and the top rate of corporation tax from 22 percent to 20 percent ― when the National Assembly opens its regular session this fall.
The rift in the ruling camp is being pronounced as the Grand National Party’s national congress, scheduled for July 4, is approaching. One of the leading candidates for the post of party chairman says that, if elected, he would keep his distance from Lee’s conservative administration.
He is not alone in moving toward the center, if not the left, though it is a matter of degree. But GNP politicians need to be reminded that, by doing so, the party is losing its conservative base of support.