It had been expected to be a close race, but Rep. Kim Moo-sung easily defeated his archrival, Rep. Suh Chung-won, in Monday’s vote for leadership of the ruling Saenuri Party.
Kim, a five-term lawmaker who once had been alienated from President Park Geun-hye, won about 52,000 votes, compared with 38,000 for Suh, a seven-term lawmaker and leader of the party’s mainstream faction loyal to Park.
The leadership race, which also elected Suh and three other members of the top decision-making Supreme Council, demonstrated a power shift in the ruling party as now Suh will be the only elected member of the council hailing from the pro-Park faction.
As pundits point out, the Sewol ferry disaster and consequent bungled nominations of candidates for prime minister must have worked in favor of Kim, who has sometimes been critical of the Park government.
As a ruling party leader who is not as submissive to the president as some of his predecessors, Kim is expected to take a firm grip on the ruling party and try to expand its political base, especially among younger voters. This is all the more important for Kim, because he has presidential ambitions.
It is certainly good for the nation to have a solid, sound ruling party which can manage legislative agenda and relations with the president and the opposition in a more independent and responsible way.
But the first thing Kim has to do to make Saenuri a healthy ruling party is to embrace his opponents within the party, including Suh and his followers.
This is all the more necessary because the election fight between the two has left deep scars in the party. Kim and Suh exposed all the ills of Korean politics at the peak of their campaign battle: factional strife, mudslinging and accusations of illegal electioneering. Kim needs to heal those wounds.
Kim then is tasked with the mission of lifting the ruling party out of the mire it and President Park had been thrown into by the Sewol calamity and the consequent controversies over the nomination of senior officials. Whether he has the ability to do that will be put to test shortly, through the July 30 by-elections which will elect 15 lawmakers.