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Reinventing the party

July 04,2017
The Liberty Korea Party elected its former presidential candidate Hong Joon-pyo as the new head of the main opposition party in Monday’s national convention. With Hong taking the helm of the embattled party, which has 107 seats in the National Assembly, it filled its leadership vacuum in 54 days. In fact, the party was sharply split over the removal of former President Park Geun-hye last December, which led to a steep decline in the standing of conservative forces in Korean politics.

In an acceptance speech after his victory, Hong blamed deep-rooted complacency for the collapse of the party, which actually can be given a lot of credit for the rags-to-riches industrialization of the nation. Hong promised to regain public trust by drastically reforming the party. But the party faces some of the biggest challenges in its long history. Its current approval rating of seven percent is even lower than the splinter opposition Bareun Party’s nine percent, according to a recent Gallup Korea poll.

Chairman Hong is partly accountable for the abysmal fall of the former ruling party. In the run-up to a primary to pick the party’s presidential candiate, he degraded the integrity of the party with remarks that sparked a public outcry for disgracefulness. Now Hong must pay special heed to widespread public criticism that he must change the way he acts and speaks as head of a political party.

Hong faces three major challenges. He should be able to criticize the liberal Moon Jae-in government if it makes mistakes, revitalize his moribund party by reforming some negative traits — it likes power but doesn’t show much of a will to reinvent itself when the need arises — and rally conservative voters to reestablish the genuine values of a new conservatism in this country.

Hong expressed determination to attack the ruling Democratic Party if it goes off track, while cooperating with it when the need arises. That’s a reasonable approach in a democracy. We hope that an upcoming final trial at the Supreme Court that Hong awaits involving a case of misusing political funds will not serve as an obstacle to rightful criticism of the government when it is justified. With regard to the resuscitation of the party, Hong must somehow deal with the pro-Park Geun-hye group, so culpable for the party’s shameful collapse, but should not take advantage of it to create another faction loyal to him. Finally, in order to reinvent the party and a new form of conservatism, he must immediately kick off a grand debate while not abandoning the traditional values of conservatism, which prioritize national security and economic growth.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 4, Page 30