Why Park Geun-hye is steadfast on primary rules
Rep. Park Geun-hye has not budged from her stance on how the ruling Saenuri Party will select its standard bearer for the Dec. 19 presidential election.
Her challengers ― Reps. Chung Mong-joon and Lee Jae-oh, and Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo ― are calling on her to adopt an open primary, threatening to boycott the vote if their demand is not met.
“Rules are rules,” the 60-year-old has said. According to polls, the daughter of the late dictator Park Chung-hee is by far the frontrunner among potential candidates and would be the most likely winner in the presidential election, if it was held today.
Why is she so steadfast in her “rules are rules” stance even at the risk of being portrayed as being too rigid?
One possibility is a lesson she learned from her unsuccessful bid to become a presidential candidate in the 2007 primary. The lesson is that she has a higher chance of winning the nomination in a vote that gives a stronger say to party members than ordinary citizens.
Park’s rivals believe that they would have no chance under the current system because the party is united behind Park so they want to bring in a greater say from citizens in the hopes of upsetting the status quo.
Although senior members of the ruling party had left room for a last-minute compromise on an open primary, campaign watchers were skeptical about the prospects for a rule change.
Surely, Park is behind it all. The Supreme Council, the highest decision-making body, is under Park’s control, being filled with her loyalists.
Meanwhile, Park’s stance comes not without a cost.
Her rivals described her as a stubborn politician with whom her counterparts find it very challenging to communicate. The former Saenuri Party leader is inflexible, her opponents claim.
On Tuesday, Chung argued the primary would serve as a rubbers stamp for Park’s nomination. He reaffirmed that he would boycott it.
Park’s aides said a risk lurks in an open primary, calling it an “adverse selection.”
The term refers to a nightmare scenario in which a less competitive candidate is chosen in the primary as a result of political maneuvering spearheaded by opposition parties. An open primary is vulnerable to calculated actions led by opponents to influence the primary results by registering themselves as delegates and then cast their vote for a weaker candidate.
The 2007 primary results obviously contributed to making her determined to hold on to the current primary rule under which party members are entitled to have a greater say in the primary.
The 2007 winner was Lee Myung-bak, who went on to become president.
Park earned much more votes than Lee from the ruling party delegates. Despite this, she lost the primary because she lagged behind Lee in public opinion surveys by a wide margin.
Lee earned support of 51 percent in the polls, while Park got 42.73 percent.
The survey results, which accounted for 20 percent of the final results, were critical for Lee to become the presidential candidate of the then Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party).
The final results, which were based on public opinion surveys and votes cast by delegates, gave Lee 49.56 percent to Park’s 48.06 percent.