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Rigging the mainsail

Feb 11,2017
Conservative voters are stranded at sea without a captain. The ship of the ruling conservative party was wrecked by the powerful scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her inner circle. Apart from the banner of being loyal or distant from the scandal-ridden president, neither of the factions have enough appeal to lure voters aboard.

Candidates from the conservative front are at the bottom in popularity polls. Yoo Seung-min of splinter Bareun Party and Gyeonggi Governor Nam Kyung-pil command pitiful approval ratings of around 5 percent and 1 percent. Contenders from the ruling Saenuri Party Rhee In-je, Won Yoo-chul and Ahn Sang-soo do not even get their names on the list. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, acting on behalf of impeached president, is now being courted as a replacement for Ban Ki-moon after the former UN chief abruptly bowed out of the race.

The Bareun Party, comprising conservative members jumping from the sinking ship that is the ruling Saenuri Party, fails to present persuasive conservative values or a cogent vision. Yoo pitches radical welfare programs by promising three-year child care leave and shorter work hours for salary-earners, but falls short of earning approval from the broader conservative population.

The party cannot carve out an individual identity with members who cannot even agree on the simple agenda of lowering the voting age and establishing a new anti-corruption investigation office. The party is drifting along without a rudder. Its approval rating has now hit 5.8 percent, trailing behind the liberal Justice Party’s 6.8 percent.

Thanks to Park’s die-hard loyalists, the Saenuri Party maintains 13.8 percent. But the supporting base is fragile since the party does not attempt to atone for its leader’s excesses and recreate itself. It seems to hang onto the lifesaver of acting president Hwang’s rising likability, but nearly 70 percent of the population is against his running for president. In other words, that lifebuoy won’t help when the tsunami comes. Meanwhile, the party has decided to change its name, which amounts to moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic.

The conservative camp is stumbling because it cannot completely free itself from the president. Park maintains innocence even as 18 staff from her secretariat and cabinet, including the chief of staff, have been indicted on multiple offenses. She lost her dignity by blaming her aides.

A state cannot run on a single conservative and liberal engine. Even if it loses governing power, the conservative force must provide an anchor to keep governance moored. Park must stop with all her desperate effort to delay the trial. The Saenuri Party also should divorce from the pro-Park group and prove itself to be a new party. The Bareun Party must demonstrate what exactly it means by reform. When this has been done, then the conservative voice can be restored and it will be smooth sailing to the shores of success.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 10, Page 30