“Change the Saenuri Party!” That’s the slogan the ruling party has chosen for the July 14 national convention, where it is to elect its new leadership. Yet the candidates are rendering the catchphrase hollow by relying on old-fashioned tactics.
What is at stake at the convention is the ruling party’s future. The party was given a yellow card in the June 4 local elections. Many supporters withdrew their backing for it due to the government’s abysmal response to the Sewol ferry disaster.
But the party managed to avoid a much worried landslide defeat. Some Saenuri lawmakers took it as a de facto victory, but that was the wrong interpretation. The electorate simply gave it another chance.
The rival parties face another major test next month. The July 30 by-elections are referred to as a “mini general election” as up to 16 parliamentary seats are up for grabs.
So the ruling party should show through the convention that it is determined to reinvent itself and push for reforms. Otherwise, it could be routed in the upcoming by-elections.
The party could begin reform efforts with its election culture. It should ensure that candidates participating in the leadership race avoid mudslinging and compete for the party chairmanship based on persuasive reform visions.
Yet the reality is a far cry from this. Candidates have no qualms about muck-raking and making personal attacks against each other. They also resort to factionalism and use such old tactics as holding large meetings of lawmakers to show off their broad support base.
Competition is especially fierce between the two frontrunners: Rep. Kim Moo-sung, a six-term lawmaker who is seen as representing the non-Park (Geun-hye) faction, and Rep. Suh Chung-won, a seven-term legislator who is a key confidant of President Park.
As mud-slinging between the two leaders intensifies, a group of some 30 young lawmakers called on them to exercise restraint and come up with reform proposals to meet the expectations of the public.
The two candidates should heed the call for civility and focus on how to reform the party. In the first place, they need to address the democratic deficit from which their party suffers.
The first step toward intraparty democracy is reforming the current system to set nominations for parliamentary and local elections. Candidates should be picked through primaries to prevent party leaders from exercising influence on the nomination process.
This will help lawmakers think and act more independently, which will in turn enable the party to forge a more balanced relationship with the Blue House. Candidates should also present plans to renounce or curtail undue privileges for lawmakers.
If the party wants to remain the ruling party, it should pick the right leader. As the chairman’s term is two years, the newly elected chairman will lead the party in the next general elections, which are slated for April 2016. The next elections are not a remote event. The party’s rank and file should make the right choice.