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GNP in conflict over conservative tag

Another conflict flared up within the ruling Grand National Party on Thursday, after one of its reformist leaders called for the ruling party to drop the word “conservative” from its charter.

The idea was first floated by Kim Jong-in, a key member of the party’s emergency leadership council who has been at the center of controversy recently over his outspoken criticism of the party old-guard.

“A party that confines itself to a frame of political conservatism can’t survive in this rapidly changing world,” he said in a media interview Wednesday.

Council members, meeting early Thursday to amend the party charter, said they were considering the proposal, although any decision would require thorough discussion.

The GNP leaders are pushing for reforms, as the party is faced with dwindling public support, corruption scandals and a public image that it is a party of the rich and privileged.

Kim and other leaders appear to think that by dropping the conservative tag, the party could appeal to more voters who want expanded welfare and measures to tackle a widening income gap between the rich and poor.

The move, however, immediately faced vehement opposition from many senior GNP members, who claim they should keep the word “conservative” in the charter, as it is a core statement of their political identity. They also expressed worry that such a move risks losing the party’s core support base of conservative voters.

Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, the party’s chief until last November, said it was time the party position itself as the guardian of true conservative values.

“The problem is those some corrupt and greedy conservatives, not the true conservatives” he said. “If we remove the word ‘conservative,’ we will lose our core identity,” he said.

In the council meeting Thursday, party leaders decided to add “flexible policy stance on North Korea” to the party’s charter and stress the values of economic justice and fair competition. The GNP is facing tough odds in parliamentary elections in April, with polls showing widespread voter disapproval of the incumbent administration led by conservative President Lee Myung-bak.

In another potentially controversial step, the GNP was considering nominating up to 37 percent of its electorate candidates from those in 20s and 30s to better represent the young generation.

“It is one of the measures we’re considering in order to better serve the public,” Rep. Hwang said.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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