Lee Jun-seok, the newly appointed 29-year-old head of the ruling Saenuri Party’s innovation council, said President Park Geun-hye held some responsibility for the Saenuri Party’s falling approval ratings among young voters.
“I think some of the causes of the current political crisis can be traced to Cheong Wa Dae,” Lee said. “Our council does not intend to fix Cheong Wa Dae per se, but we need to do something, like making relations between the ruling party and the president more effective.”
Ruling party lawmakers tend not to challenge the president in major political decisions, said Choi Young-jin, professor of Korean politics at Chung-Ang University.
“Many ruling party lawmakers usually want to become Cabinet members. And because of the centralized authority Cheong Wa Dae holds, the ruling party has a lot to earn by doing things the president’s way.”
Lee vowed to change this political practice.
“I think the party should strengthen moral standards, for instance,” he said. “People like Rep. Moon Dae-sung should have stayed out of the party.”
Immediately after the 2012 general elections, Kookmin University accused Moon of having plagiarized his doctoral paper. Moon left the Saenuri Party after the allegations, but rejoined in February.
Lee’s comments come as public anger against Park and the Saenuri Party has been stoked by the president’s decision to keep Prime Minister Chung Hong-won in office.
Chung was planning to step down because of the government’s failed rescue operations after the Sewol accident. But the political uproar caused by Park’s nomination of the allegedly pro-Japanese Moon Chang-keuk as Chung’s replacement, and the preceding failed nomination of former prosecutor Ahn Dae-hee, convinced Park to keep Chung, despite criticism that he should take responsibility for the Sewol disaster by resigning.
Lee is often seen as a progressive member of the conservative Saenuri Party. The Harvard graduate and founder of several education companies was also a member of an emergency leadership council in the Grand National Party in 2012 alongside Park. The GNP was the forerunner of the Saenuri Party.
Lee’s youthfulness enhanced the images of Park and the Saenuri Party before the 2012 general elections and the presidential election in the same year by giving them a fresher image, according to analysts.
Lee’s appointment to the innovation council is seen as an effort to enhance the party’s standing among young voters in the July by-elections. Fifteen parliamentary seats are up for grabs, making the elections key to both the ruling and opposition parties.
Less than 20 percent of voters in their 20s support the Saenuri Party according to a Gallup Korea poll in late June. About 34 percent of 20-somethings support the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)