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[Editorial] Ruling party stewards

The Grand National Party has elected its new executive council, including the party chairperson, which will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the governing party through next year’s parliamentary and presidential election campaigns. What is special about the five new stewards of the party, who will be added with two appointed members is that they are barred from presidential candidacy under party regulations.

If the formation of the new executive board means the beginning of an electioneering system in the GNP. It could also mark the start of the “lame duck” period for President Lee Myung-bak. The party leadership will henceforth seek to establish fresh party identity and image solely aiming at collecting more votes, detaching it from the administration and the presidential office in particular whenever and wherever necessary.

Looking at the faces of the five elected executive members, we are not quite reassured of a stable navigation of the party in preparation for the elections. At the head is Rep. Hong Joon-pyo who, although having hitherto kept distance from the Park Geun-hye group, has offered his devoted service for the final victory of Park, the current front runner. His straightforward character and sharp tongue is, however, feared to cause some noise in the leadership group.

Park loyalist Yoo Seung-min won the second-most votes in the complex election combining partisans’ ballots and public opinion polls. Third place went to Na Kyung-won, considered a non-factional candidate, the fourth to Won Hee-ryong, of the pro-Lee Myung-bak group, and the fifth to reformist Nam Kyung-pil. With average age of 50, they are five years younger than the outgoing team and all but one are from the Seoul and Gyeonggi region.

Nominations for the National Assembly elections next April will thoroughly test the role of the party executives, who will find themselves squeezed between the present and future powers, or between President Lee and the plural presidential candidates topped by Park. Then there is the crucial task of formulating party platforms, which comes down to the question of modifying and abandoning the policies of the present administration.

On the table are the four rivers development project, with split popular support, the signature conservative program of reducing corporate taxes and the contrasting schemes of expanding grassroots welfare, which will be the major issues both in the intra-party and inter-party debates, along with the heady problem of tackling relations with North Korea.

Above all, the new executives of the GNP will have to walk a tightrope to remain in trusted neutrality between Park Geun-hye and other presidential contenders until the ultimate standard bearer has been finally chosen.