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Is ruling party's reform drive at end of road?

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Ihn Yo-han, chief of the ruling People Power Party's innovation committee, attends a meeting at the party's headquarters in Seoul, Nov. 23. With the committee's reform drive having become stuck in its most critical stage, Ihn now appears to have no other options but to wait things out or step down, according to experts on Friday. Yonhap

Ferocious opposition from establishment puts committee chief in tough spot
By Jung Min-ho

In what he called an "ultimatum," Ihn Yo-han, chief of the ruling People Power Party's (PPP) innovation committee, demanded on Thursday the right to nominate its candidates for the April 10 general elections, saying he would wait for an answer by Dec. 4.

But within two hours, Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, the party's chairman, turned him down. Speaking to reporters, he said it would be "inappropriate" to stir up controversy by bringing up the issue of who should have the nomination right. Then he added, "The innovation committee has done a lot of work. I want to thank them for having tried their best to make good suggestions they could come up with."

Experts believe his answer has left the committee under Ihn with only two possible options: He could wait out the remainder of his two-month term or resign. Either option could be interpreted as a failure of the party's mission to transform itself ahead of the elections.

When it was launched on Oct. 23, the committee drew much attention and praise from both within and outside the PPP. Ihn, a naturalized Korean doctor with four generations of close ties to the country, said its 13 members including himself, mostly people with no experience in politics, symbolized "changes to come."

When the committee recommended special pardons to key members of a PPP minor faction for the sake of "unity" in its first proposal, the party's Supreme Council approved it in just three days.

But the efforts to improve the PPP have lost speed since it proposed that senior lawmakers not seek reelection or run in swing districts instead of the party's traditional strongholds. No progress has been made since amid ferocious opposition from the establishment.

"Perhaps the committee was doomed to fail from the beginning, ironically due to their lack of political experience," said Cho Jin-man, a politics professor at Duksung Women's University.

"One of the most obvious mistakes Ihn made was issuing too many uncoordinated, personal messages to the public. This is something an experienced politician leading such a committee would not do," Cho told The Korea Times, Friday.

"In doing so, Ihn was criticized for making politically inappropriate remarks about (former PPP chief) Lee Jun-seok's parents and talking about the president's intention. As a result, he lost support from the public and once-supportive politicians."

Cho said if the committee announces its breakup on Monday as widely expected, this would result in the very opposite of the strengthened establishment it initially intended.

"Those who opposed the committee's way of reform will likely have a bigger say during the nomination process if it ends like this," he added.

With dwindling support from the PPP leadership and even other members of the committee, Ihn would be able to achieve little even if he chooses to remain and finish his term (until Dec. 24), said Hahm Sung-deuk, a professor political science at Kyonggi University.

According to a survey released on Friday by Gallup Korea, a pollster, the approval rating for the PPP was 33 percent. The rate increased to 37 percent in the second week of November when the reform committee was stepping up efforts to lay out proposals. But it dropped to 35 percent the following week amid a stalemate before reaching the current level.

Jung Min-ho


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