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Conservatives mull ways to grab young minds

GNP, Cheong Wa Dae plan targeted pitch for voters under 50


The conservative ruling Grand National Party, stung by a sharp fall in support among younger voters, continued agonizing Friday over how to reform itself.

The party’s leaders, including chairman Hong Joon-pyo, looked set to stay on and lead the reform measures.

“We should take the initiative and push for a complete overhaul of the party,” Rep. Hong told members of the party’s top decision-making Supreme Council on Thursday evening. 
Grand National Party chairman Hong Joon-pyo (left) speaks with floor leader Hwang Woo-yea prior to a general meeting of GNP lawmakers at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap News)
Grand National Party chairman Hong Joon-pyo (left) speaks with floor leader Hwang Woo-yea prior to a general meeting of GNP lawmakers at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap News)

Some GNP members had demanded that Hong and other leaders resign, taking responsibility for the defeat in Wednesday’s Seoul mayoral by-election.

Voters in Seoul chose civil activist and political outsider Park Won-soon over GNP candidate Na Kyung-won as their new mayor in the poll which was seen as a litmus test of voter sentiment ahead of the general and presidential elections next year.

Voters under 50 gave overwhelming support to Park, who was backed by liberal opposition groups.

With a sense of crisis spreading within the conservative bloc, Rep. Hong and other members will hold a series of events to listen to the people about what they want from the GNP and how they want the party to be changed, a party official said. The leaders will then decide what measures they should take, the official said.

Some, however, claimed that such steps would not be enough to win back the hearts of the disenchanted voters.

“The public may think that the GNP has no will to change, even after the humilitating defeat in the election, which was second most important after the presidential poll,” said Rep. Won Hee-ryong, a member of the Supreme Council, adding that the current leadership must resign en masse.

For President Lee Myung-bak and his hopeful successor Park Geun-hye, winning back the hearts of younger voters has become a top priority.

The presidential office has already started studying measures to address high college tuition, a bleak job market, and a shortage of affordable rental homes in Seoul, making a targeted pitch at younger generations.

“I heavily accept the people’s will as conveyed in the results of the by-election,” Lee said through his spokesman Park Jeong-ha.

“In particular, I will keep in mind the will the young generations showed in this election.”

Lee’s chief-of-state Yim Tae-hee expressed his willingness to resign over the election result, but the president wanted him to stay in office, refraining from an immediate personnel change.

The presidential office will double efforts to communicate with younger voters using Twitter and other social networking tools, a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

Park Geun-hye, the GNP’s former chairwoman who has long been considered the party’s best shot at the next presidency, will also try to appeal to the younger voters, her aides said.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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