The emergency committee of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party on Saturday decided on a personal reform plan that calls for sacking of its 22 incumbent lawmakers from chairmanship of the party’s local chapters. Lawmakers who have been sacked as the party’s branch heads include former President Park Geun-hye’s royalists including Choi Kyung-whan, Hong Moon-jong and Yoon Sang-hyun, and Kim Moo-sung, Kim Yong-tae and Kwon Sung-dong who defected from the party in a move to seek presidential impeachment. Analysts say that the reform measure is a fresh effort to reconstruct the party, which has been denying changes despite its constantly deteriorating outlook for the future. However considering the gravity of the crisis facing the party that has no future without a great transformation, it is questionable whether the reform measure that appears to be hardly sufficient will enable the party to secure momentum strong enough to revive conservatism in Korean politics.
The lawmakers that have been sacked have been agitated, but the degree of their resistance will unlikely be significant, with lawmakers Won Yoo-chul and Yoon Sang-hyun having already expressed intention to accept. This is because the exclusion of them from branch chief posts does not directly mean the denial of their nomination as the party’s candidates for the next general elections, while the elections are as many as 16 months away. The fact Floor Leader Na Kyung-won is rather passive is also helping lessen the impact of the latest personnel reform.
The barometers used in the personnel reform are also outdated. The party said the selection was based the degree of their responsibilities for the candidate nomination debacle in the 2016 general elections, the presidential impeachment in 2016, split of the party, and its crushing defeat in the 2018 local elections. However, such degree of personnel reform was already necessary even in times of normal operation, rather than the worst crisis ever that the party is currently facing. The way the lawmakers who thus have been sacked have been distributed also seems to be rather reckless, as the measure holds the Park Geun-hye royalists who caused the demise of the Park administration, which led to the collapse of conservatism, and those behind the resulting split of the party equally accountable. Also, watchers can hardly understand why the party has kept intact lawmakers who remained complacent with their existing privileges, and those who tarnished the integrity of conservative politics by making abusive or derogatory remarks. At the very minimum, the party should have completely excluded figures who failed to honor the value of conservatism including the obligations for tax payment and military service.
When it comes to reform, quality matters more than scale. The Saenuri Party, the predecessor of the Liberty Korea Party, replaced 37.6 percent of its then incumbent lawmakers when nominating its candidates for the 20th general elections, but nonetheless lost the elections to the Democratic Party that replaced only 29.1 percent. At the time, the Democratic Party’s emergency committee chair Kim Jong-in excluded even its flagship veteran politicians including Lee Hae-chan and Jung Chung-rae without exception in a bid to shed its image as party of ‘life-time activists and fighters,’ but the Saenuri Party backpedaled to strengthen its image as party of Park’s royalists. The Liberty Korea Party should continue reform with the kind of determination and mindset that it only started one of many more changes to come. The party should seek generational shift by conducting second and third personnel reforms and recruiting new faces, and sets transparent and fair rules for candidate nominations that can back up the reform measures through systems and policy.