About four months after its record defeat in the local elections, the Liberty Korea Party’s efforts to rebuild itself – and the conservative forces as a whole – are being put into higher gear. Overall, its strategy seems well-advised.
First, the party is moving to undertake a sweeping replacement of the heads of the 253 parliamentary electoral districts across the country. The party’s district chapters are headed by either incumbent lawmakers or those who hope to run in the next general elections scheduled for 2020.
It is a step in the right direction since the most urgent task for the party, which suffered devastating defeats in the 2017 presidential election and last June’s local elections, is to purge itself of its old guard and incompetent, corrupt members, especially those tied to the failed government of the ousted President Park Geun-hye.
Interim party leader Kim Byong-joon entrusted the revamp to a panel of seven led by Secretary-General Kim Yong-tae and Jun Won-tchack, a vocal conservative lawyer who was an active television panelist and commentator.
As soon as he began work with the panel, Jun emerged as its de facto leader, setting the course of future action. Most of all, he indicated kicking out people who were close to Park when the conservative party was the ruling party.
Jun said that “some multi-term, veteran lawmakers should go on sabbatical” and those who dragged down the party to where it is now should leave. These apparently target Park loyalists and senior party members who – instead of engaging in self-reflection – think about their revival through next year’s leadership contest.
Jun and other members of the panel already face protests from those who see their electoral district leadership is threatened. If the district heads, who include 95 incumbent lawmakers, forfeit the district leadership, they would have virtually no chance of obtaining party nomination for the 2020 parliamentary elections.
Indeed, the party would plunge into a chaotic situation if Jun’s panel begins its work in earnest and kicks out party members it finds unfit to run in the election. Whether Jun’s panel and the party’s interim leadership could overcome this challenge will depend on who they choose as replacements.
In this sense, it is right for Jun and party leader Kim to try to bring in “new blood” that they hope will resuscitate the party that fell into disgrace along with the demise of the Park government.
What Kim, Jun and other party leaders should guard against is bringing in “men of the past” in the name of strengthening the party base. Some such names include former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, former Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil and former South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Tae-ho. These three, all former members of the Liberty Korea Party, are considered potential presidential candidates, but how much political clout they could muster has yet to be seen.
One man who deserves attention is former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who usually tops the opinion surveys that rank potential conservative presidential candidates. What distinguishes Hwang from other men the party hopes to bring in as “new blood” is that he has never been in party politics, though he served as the No. 2 man in the Park administration and was acting president when Park’s duty was suspended by the National Assembly.
The Liberty Korea Party’s moves to recruit outside politicians is naturally producing talk of political realignment. The first possible scenario is the merger of the Liberty Korea Parry with the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party, some of whose members belonged to the Liberty Korea Party before Park’s impeachment.
The move also encounters opposition from politicians like Bareunmirae Party leader Sohn Hak-kyu, who argues Korea needs to break away from a two-party system which pits a conservative party against a progressive party and build a multi-party system. But for now, Sohn’s argument seems to make little sense, considering his center-right party even falls short of the far-leftist Justice Party in voters’ popularity.