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LKP reforms by abolishing its headquarters

June 19,2018
The interim chief of the main opposition party declared Monday he would disband the party’s headquarters in a symbolic measure of reform in the aftermath of a devastating electoral loss last Wednesday.

Kim Sung-tae, acting chief of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), said he would champion reforms to restore the troubled party’s reputation and uphold conservative values.

“Effective today, I declare the disbandment of the LKP’s headquarters. Disbandment measures are to begin from this very moment,” said Kim at a press briefing at the National Assembly Monday, five days after the party suffered its worst electoral defeat ever, losing all but two of 17 key races in June 13 local elections. For 12 by-elections for National Assembly, it only won one district, yielding the rest to the ruling Democratic Party in an astonishing defeat.

A political party is composed of its headquarters in Seoul, serving as a governing body, and regional bodies. The headquarters, with extensive oversight and management authority, is in charge of setting up the nomination process for general elections and executing administrative affairs of the party at large.

By declaring the disbandment of the headquarters, Kim aims to decentralize the authority heavily vested in its governing body to redirect it to an emergency committee.

“I will take up the role of the headquarters disbandment committee chief and command the efforts to rid the party of its headquarters,” said the three-term lawmaker, adding he would demand senior party officials - including the director of an LKP think tank, the party spokespersons and directors of various offices - resign in a major personnel reshuffle.

The interim leader also vowed to create an emergency committee led by a person outside of the party to carry out reforms.

“We will launch an emergency committee on the premise that it will not accept interests of any pre-existing party factions,” said the party chief. “At the top of the agenda will be a personnel reshuffle.”

He also indicated the LKP will be given a new name that “reflects a new ideology and [political] principles.” If renamed, the LKP moniker will be discarded a year and a half after it was adopted.

Kim’s announcement came as the conservative party scrambled to recover from an electoral defeat that raised the prospect among party members of another landslide defeat in the general election two years later.

In a gesture of atonement to voters, LKP lawmakers knelt in the lobby of the National Assembly Friday with a banner behind them reading, “We are sorry.”

But the party also revealed deep internal strife Saturday when Hong Joon-pyo, the party chief who stepped down last Thursday, called his critics in the party “psychopaths” who could not control their emotions and lamented there were LKP lawmakers only interested in going on overseas trips paid for with taxpayers’ money.

With Kim’s promise that the emergency committee will wield full authority to usher in reforms, figures outside the political establishment are likely to be recruited. It remains to be seen if Kim can overcome any backlash from within the party over reforms, including a plan to disband the governing body. To what extent an emergency committee can reshuffle personnel also remains to be seen.

In a joint survey conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo and the Korean Association of Party Studies, a non-profit academic group, of 31 political scholars, 28 of them said a complete personnel reshuffle for the conservative parties was necessary to redeem conservative politics in South Korea. The survey was conducted between Thursday and Saturday.

On who was most responsible for the conservatives’ landslide defeat last week, an overwhelming number of the respondents, 28, picked Hong Joon-pyo, a former LKP chief notorious for off-the-cuff, blunt remarks. Former President Park Geun-hye, convicted of corruption and abuse of power with a 24-year prison term, came next as most responsible for the demise of conservative politics with 15 out of the 31 scholars holding her responsible. Multiple answers were allowed in the survey.

Lee Jae-mook, professor of political science at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said if the LKP was to succeed with a personnel reshuffle, it would have to recruit figures completely new to the public.

“It would not work if the LKP brought along someone who had already been in politics,” Lee said. “It would have to bring in someone to the center of the party who would come across as a surprise to the public.”

Yoo Sung-jin, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University, agreed, saying the LKP needs to “display to the public painstaking efforts for change that would disconnect itself from the past.”

Rep. Moon Hee-sang, a six-term lawmaker of the DP who is vying to become the next speaker of the National Assembly, said the conservatives’ defeats stem from their collective failure to read the “spirit of the times.”

Moon also expressed caution that his party should not be overly complacent with its landslide victory. “The collapse of checks and balances inevitably brings about self-righteousness and arrogance, and that in turn paves the path toward ultimate failure.”

“The conservatives failed to read the spirit of the times on two fronts,” the veteran lawmaker told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Firstly, they failed to reflect upon lessons drawn from candle light revolution by the people that achieved a change in power legitimately.

“Secondly, they failed to recognize the dramatic shift in world history revolving around the peace initiative on the Korean Peninsula and instead called it a ‘fake peace show,’ for which the voters unleashed their judgement.”

Park Kwan-yong, a former National Assembly speaker between 2002 and 2004 with roots in the LKP, said conservative forces, currently dispersed among the LKP and Bareunmirae, should be integrated to maximize their influence.

Park expressed hope for a conservative revival. “There will inevitably be corruption and arrogance among DP lawmakers because of its holding of absolute power through the election. That will bring about arrogance and corruption,” he said.

“Politics is just like nature. At the height of a prolonged drought, along comes the rain.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU, KIM HYOUNG-GU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]