Cablegate: Stiff Competition for Gnp Seats in Busan


DE RUEHUL #0317/01 0490115
O 180115Z FEB 08 ZDS





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) This message is from the American Presence Post (APP) in
Busan, Korea.

2. (U) With the April 9 general elections less than 60 days away,
competition for Grand National Party (GNP) seats is setting new
records. Spurred on by Lee Myung-bak's landslide victory in the
presidential election in December 2007, GNP hopefuls flocked to the
party's registration venue on February 5 to sign up for a chance to
join the 299-seat parliament. Although the city of Busan has only 18
seats to offer, it serves as an example of the strong competition
within the party that is likely throughout the GNP's stronghold in
southeastern part of the Peninsula. If the GNP nominating committee
pays any heed to the constituent's voices as expressed in recent
polls, a large turnover in the lawmaker ranks is likely as well as a
new trend away from older incumbents and lawmakers without business
savvy. Despite a vocal feud between factions within the party that
threatens to divide supporters, the GNP is likely to win a
resounding victory on April 9. END SUMMARY.


3. (U) When voters go to the polls on April 9 to cast their votes
for members of the National Assembly, pundits predict that the Grand
National Party (GNP) will capture a majority of the seats.
Following the landslide victory of Lee Myung-bak in the December
2007 presidential election, Koreans are getting behind the
president-elect and his party in large numbers. The GNP had to
extend the registration deadline for the upcoming election due to
the unprecedented volume of 1,173 interested persons hoping for one
of 243 seats in the parliament. In the Busanjin A District alone,
there were an estimated 20 candidates contending for the GNP
nomination (although only 12 decided to officially register) to
reclaim the seat occupied by Kim Byung-ho who defected from the GNP
to support Lee Hoi-chang in the run-up to the December 2007
presidential election.

4. (U) Busan and the neighboring Gyeongsang Provinces have long been
a base for the GNP and its conservative predecessors. In the 2004
election, GNP candidates swept 60 out of 68 constituencies in the
Gyeongsang provinces. Almost half of the GNP lawmakers in the
National Assembly (63 out of 130 lawmakers) hail from this
southeastern region. In the 2000 and 2004 legislative elections,
support for the GNP in this region averaged over 50 percent.


5. (U) Although not a new concept itself, in this election season
there are an unusually high number of candidates who are the sons of
former lawmakers. In Busan alone, there are four such candidates
who are running for one of the 18 seats. The list includes Park
Jae-woo, son of six-term lawmaker and former National Assembly
Speaker Park Kwan-yong; Jang Je-won, son of two-term lawmaker and
former National Assembly Vice-Speaker Jang Sung-man; Choi Jae-wan,
son of six-term lawmaker Choi Hyung-woo; and Kim Se-yeon, son of the
late Kim Jin-jae, a five-term lawmaker. Kim Se-yeon's other
connection to politics is that he is the son-in-law of the newly
appointed Prime Minister Han Seung-soo.
6. (U) In a meeting with emboff, Kim Se-yeon explained his
motivations for running for office and how the political landscape
was changing in the run-up to the April election. Kim said that his
father unexpectedly died in 2005, weeks after being diagnosed with
cancer. Given the abruptness of his father's death, the younger Kim
said that he felt he needed to complete his father's work. Being
only 36 years old and the father of three children, including
two-month old twins, Kim confided that the timing of the elections
was not the best. He said that he had not envisioned becoming a
politician but had planned to run the family's industrial belt
company, started by his grandfather in 1945. But a sense of duty
was more compelling that the other factors.

7. (U) Looking at the well-outfitted campaign office and bustling
staff, it is clear that Kim is taking the campaign seriously and
should be in a good position to nudge out first-term lawmaker Park
Seung-hwan. When asked about the plethora of staff and the nice
office, Kim said that they were all "inherited" from his father. The
building was his father's and most of the staff are volunteers who
had worked for his father in years past. Despite the paternal
reasons for running for office, Kim also represents a new age of
politicians in Korea who come from a business background and are
intent on improving Korea's economy. Following Lee Myung-bak's win
in the presidential election, many feel the door to a political
career is wide open for those with a proven track record in the
business world.


8. (U) Even though the GNP is expected to fare well in Busan and the
Gyeongsang Provinces, this is not to say that the incumbents are
guaranteed a spot in the 18th National Assembly. A recent poll
conducted by Hankyoreh and Research Plus indicated that 40.6 percent
of respondents said they wanted lawmakers in their constituencies to
change while only 30.3 percent said they would support incumbents. A
separate poll conducted by Kookje Daily News showed that only 6.1
percent of Busan residents, 7.4 percent of Ulsan residents and 13.8
percent of South Gyeongsang Province residents felt their lawmakers
had done a good job representing their constituencies.

9. (U) The committee responsible for screening general election
candidates must have been listening to the public sentiment as they
rolled out a plan on February 9 that included replacing three and
four-term lawmakers, legislators in their 70's and many from the
southeastern region. Certain lawmakers who are considered morally
suspect may also face replacement. An editorial in the Chosun Ilbo
said "It is time to replace the old trees with new ones" and called
for a search among younger and more innovative candidates. A
preliminary analysis of the 1,173 people who filed an application to
participate in the April 9 election showed that the average age of
the applicants is 52 years. About 283 applicants, or 24 percent,
were businessmen, followed by 130 legal professionals, 91 professors
and 33 journalists.


10. (U) Despite these calls for a younger generation of politicians,
a total of twelve three-time lawmakers will run for a seat in Busan
(four), Daegu (four), and North Gyeongsang Province (four). At
least a third of them are likely to fail to get nominations from the
party. One Busan lawmaker stands out among the crowd of veterans.
Kim Hyung-oh is a four-time lawmaker who is currently serving as the
Deputy Chairman for President-elect Lee Myung-bak's transition
committee. Although Kim is occupying a prominent seat in the
transition committee, most pundits discount the notion that he would
accept a position in Lee's government over his seat in the National
Assembly. Dr. Lim Suk-jun, Political Science Professor at Busan's
Dong-A University, told emboff that a position within the central
government is fleeting; only likely to last for two or three years
at best. For someone who is still in the prime of their political
career, such as Kim Hyung-oh, he is more likely to fight for his
National Assembly seat in this round of elections. Kim is more
likely to seek out a ministerial position in two years once
President Lee has had time to stabilize his cabinet and his focus as


11. (U) Another lawmaker from Busan, Kim Jung-hoon, echoed this
sentiment and said that he expected to see half of Busan's
incumbents to lose their seats in April. But do not expect all of
them to accept their fate quietly. According to Kim, there is a
chance that some of the lawmakers who do not get the coveted
approval from the GNP election committee will flee the party and run
as an independent in their district, thereby splitting the votes and
opening the door for other parties to do better than expected.

12. (U) There is also a factional divide within the GNP between
loyalists to Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak. The divide between
the two groups first came into public view when the nomination
committee announced on January 29 that it would strictly enforce the
rule that any lawmaker who had been convicted on a crime would not
be selected to run for a seat. One of Busan's incumbent
legislators, Kim Moo-sung (Park Geun-hye faction), quickly protested
and said that if he was not deemed eligible to run on the GNP ticket
he would leave the party along with a host of other Park loyalists.
NOTE: Representative Kim was convicted in 1996 for accepting bribes
and would be considered ineligible under strict interpretation of
the GNP's nomination rules. END NOTE. But to maintain some
semblance of fairness, the Lee faction would also be expected to
make cuts in its lawmakers if Park's faction is reduced. In Busan,
this would mean that Lee-loyalist Kwon Chul-hyun would likely have
to give up his seat if Kim Moo-sung is not able to run.


13. (U) According to Professor Lim, decisions about who among the
Lee-faction will survive may come down to trust. In general,
President-elect Lee does not trust politicians and therefore sees
many of them as "expendable." Despite this general apathy toward
politicians, a few key GNP lawmakers from Busan have penetrated the
inner sanctum of Lee's camp and gained his trust and therefore are
more secure than others. In addition to Deputy Transition Chairman
Kim Hyun-oh, freshman lawmaker Park Heong-joon served as Lee's
spokesperson during the election campaign. Although not in the Lee
faction, Representative Suh Byung-soo is the head of the influential
Youido Institute, a GNP think tank, and is likely to retain his seat
in Busan as well.


14. (U) The worst case scenario in Busan and other GNP strongholds
is that the factional fighting between Park Geun-hye loyalists and
Lee Myung-bak loyalists will not subside in time to prevent members
from bolting their camp to join forces with Lee Hoi-chang and his
New Freedom Party, an offshoot of the GNP. Some sources indicate
there may be as many as 20 lawmakers that could fall into this camp.
GNP Leader Kang Jae-sup will need to exert creative leadership to
bring the two factions together as he did following the presidential
primaries. The GNP election committee needs to decide if it will
enforce strict guidelines when choosing candidates or whether it
will give in to the external pressure from the two factions and the
party leader. Just as it came down to the wire in the presidential
primaries, the GNP is likely to get its act together just in time to
pull out yet another resounding victory on April 9.

© Scoop Media

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