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Can Park Stall Chung and Lee's Sejong City?
By Abhishek Joshi
Associate Editor
Rep. Park Geun-Hye of South Korea's GNP

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak may have been on cloud nine to learn that majority across the nation, except the Chungcheong Province, favor the revision of "old Sejong City project," but Rep. Park Geun-Hye’s continuous opposition to President Lee’s stance may soon crash all his hopes. What effects can a minority faction of GNP led by Rep. Park Geun Hye have on a pro-Lee faction and the GNP party in general? Nothing. However, when the non-GNP opposition, united against President Lee, collaborates with the minority faction led by Rep. Park, the picture is not all rosy for the President.

Whether Rep. Park can stall the ‘old Sejong City project’ is a moot point for many. She can, however, demonstrate strong-willed nature, rake up the approval ratings and set the stage to become the first female leader of South Korea. The effects of all this on GNP: a battered morale when it goes to elections in June. The ‘new Sejong City project’ cannot yield any results as thought by President Lee by June. The betrayal will be fresh in the minds of the voters across the nation and it may not be a surprise to witness the results of recently concluded by-elections, wherein GNP managed just two out of five seats.

Rep. Park states that changing the stance on ‘old Sejong City project’ is nothing but reneging the public trust that brought President Lee and GNP to the power. Rep. Park’s tirade against Rep. Chung Moon-Joon, the chairman of GNP, is evident when she says “If the party can’t keep its own pledges then who should be held accountable?” Many pundits opine that the stance of Rep. Park is a calculated move to strengthen her position for the 2012 Presidential elections. No doubt her popularity in the Chungcheong will remain at an all-time high. She is already a strong contender for the presidency, and this issue will very well highlight her ability to ‘stay connected’ with people come what may.

Where does Rep. Chung, the chairman of GNP, go from here? He may not necessarily worry over the ‘Sejong City project’ as much as he may worry over the outcome of June 2 elections. So far, no one in the GNP has asked him to step-down over the crisis prevailing in the party. His relations with Cheongwadae are still intact. The GNP, under his leadership, as a party will take an official stance on ‘new Sejong City project’ and it won’t be a surprise to see GNP towing the line of President Lee. Rep. Park’s opposition may very well strengthen his position within the GNP. Come June 2, when South Korea faces the elections, the outcome will decide the future of Rep. Chung.

A failure in June 2 elections will eventually make the members of GNP to scout for a new leader. A new leader, who can calm the warring pro-Park faction, who can alleviate the crisis prevailing in GNP and who can still maintain close ties with Cheongwadae, will be in demand.

What happens when the bill is tabled in the spring? No doubt, President Lee’s and Prime Minister Chung’s reputation will be at stake when the bill is put up for voting in the assembly. President Lee may force Prime Minister Chung and Rep. Chung to work out the dynamics to ensure the smooth passage or near-passage of the ‘new Sejong City project’. The majority of the populace considers President Lee’s stance workable but the opposition lawmakers are so vehemently opposing that the passage of the bill seems all but impossible. Rep. Park’s statements over the weeks have made it impossible for her to change her stance. If she gives in to the party pressure then she will be doing all that she blamed President Lee and Rep. Chung for and doing so is nothing short of a political suicide for Rep. Park. However, a quick compromise between Rep. Chung and Rep. Park will enlighten the morale of GNP and Cheongwadae alike.

The outcome of the June 2 elections is important not only for Rep. Chung but also for Prime Minister Chung. The ‘new Sejong City project’ may very well establish his legacy as a pragmatic leader. His credentials are praiseworthy and an additional jewel of “pragmatic leader” will give him a confidence for 2012 Presidential elections. By 2012 the ‘new Sejong City project’ would have started to show its colors, making many realize that the new project can after all create a self-sufficient city.

There is no doubt that the ‘new Sejong City project’, as envisaged by President Lee, is a revenue generating machine. The President has not dragged himself much into the Sejong City quagmire as much as he has pushed the Prime Minister. To ensure that the bill gets passed, President Lee has to hit the streets, walk across the aisle in the Assembly and invite the pro-Park faction for talks. The grand gesture by President Lee may cave in the opposition from within the GNP and may ensure the near-passage of the bill. Rep. Park may still be in the opposition. The biggest beneficiary of this grand gesture by President Lee will be none other than Prime Minister Chung.

What needs to be seen is what luck will such a gesture by President Lee bring to GNP during June 2 elections? No doubt, during economic downturn people tend to think and tend to vote through their pockets. Any idea that facilitates any economic development will be favored during the downturn.

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Mr. Abhishek Joshi serves as associate editor of The Seoul Times. He graduated from the School of Electrical Engineering of Seoul National University. He was also a member of SNU Quill, first English magazine from Seoul National University, as a writer.






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