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Moon’s NPAD leadership hangs in the balance

Main opposition party chief Rep. Moon Jae-in’s leadership is being put to the test with mounting pressure to reorient the opposition’s political alignment and policy disposition following last week’s electoral defeat.

The beleaguered leader’s approval rating has been declining. Realmeter survey said Wednesday that his ratings stand at 24.8 percent, down by 1.9 percentage points from last week, while his rival, Rep. Kim-Moo sung, enjoyed 19.2 percent, 5.7 percentage points higher.

On Wednesday last week, his party lost four parliamentary seats in by-elections, three to the Saenuri Party and one to party defector Chun-Jung-bae. They include two seats in Gwangju and Gwanak District, Seoul, which are considered to be NPAD’s stronghold.

Moon Jae-in
Moon Jae-in

But despite the crushing defeats, Moon is expected to lead the party until 2016 general elections as his party struggles to search for a heavyweight to challenge Moon as the 2017 presidential candidate. At the postelection press conference, he said he felt “grave responsibility,” and vowed to rebuild his party “from the very beginning,” implying that he would retain the chairmanship.

His commitment, however, did not resonate with his fellow party members. Rep. Joo Seung-yong, third-time lawmaker of NPAD, challenged his leadership, saying “(Moon) needs to articulate how he is going to hold responsibility for the election results.”

Now he is tasked with bringing together party members, particularly loyalists to late President Kim Dae-Jung and late President Roh Moo-hyun, while embracing newcomers such as Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, former rival to Moon at the party’s primaries for 2012 presidential election.

Until now, he has focused on applying what he considers to be “fairness” to his party. Instead of nominating heavyweight politicians to gain an easy victory, he decided to provide every candidate with an equal opportunity to contest elections.

His move, however, was fiercely opposed by NPAD bigwigs such as Rep. Chun Jung-bae. He criticized Moon, who served as a former chief of staff during the late Roh administration, saying it was yet another attempt to reinforce the pro-Roh faction. He left the party afterward and won the election.

As party members urge Moon to bring the party back on track and steer it toward victory in the general elections, experts believe that the focus should be on strategic solutions, not procedural measures to overhaul the beleaguered party.

“I think the selection of candidates for an election is a minute issue,” said Lee Jung-hee, professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. “Fair election in itself is a step in the right direction, but NPAD should put more attention on structural reasons why it was defeated (in the by-elections),” said Lee.

Political pundit Jeon Won-chaek pointed out that NPAD should resolve ideological differences among different factions to address intraparty feuding.

“Pro-Roh factions and other factions are ideologically different,” Jeon said in a radio interview with local broadcaster TBS. “Both factions have different views about politics and thus they need to bridge ideological gaps, no matter how long it will take.”

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)
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