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Friday, February 3, 2012

Saenuri, a brand "new" wor(l)d

In Korea, the life expectancy of a political party rarely surpasses that of a David Beckham hairdo, and key leaders can change franchises with the swiftness of free agents.

But over the past 15 years, we kind of got used to a classic face off between conservatives (Grand National Party / GNP / 한나라당 / Hannara Dang) and liberals (Democratic Party (DP / 민주당 Minju Dang).

Actually, while the GNP brand survived major losses as well as Lee Myung-bak's 2007 triumph, the DP kept changing names: the Millenium Democratic Party, the Uri Party, the United New Democratic Party, again the Democratic Party, and now, following a recent merger with the Citizens Unity Party, the Democratic United Party (DUP / 민주통합당 / Minju Tonghap Dang).

As a matter of fact, the Korean 'left' has always been a jigsaw puzzle, and only Kim Dae-jung managed to federate all forces behind his own historical figure. Roh Moo-hyun did succeed him as President because of his own qualities, but he also benefited from his former rival's aura, and the conservative candidate, Lee Hoi-chang, was as un-likeable as one could be in those pre-Facebook days. Now Han Myeong-sook claims more than ever the leadership of the opposition: she served Roh as the country's first female PM, was cleared of corruption charges (charges that 'proved' that she was considered a menace for the governing party), and was elected the head of the 'new' united party. Yet she clearly lacks the quiet charisma of Kim and Roh.

And the GNP champion, Park Geun-hye, doesn't fare much better: regardless of her genes (to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the armistice, I don't think a Park dynasty down South would be the best answer to the Kim dynasty up North), Park Chung-hee's daughter is more associated with conservatism and tactics than reform and strategy. Typically, she seized the nth political scandal of the decade to pose as a 'reformer', simply because convicted felons were replaced by the next breed, and because, at long last, the party was rebranded.

Exit the Grand National Party, enter the New World Party (새누리당 / Saenuri Dang). If they forgot to lock the domain name (at least, the 'democratic' remained active after the merger), they kept the tradition of a lyrical, zweideutig brand: the Han of Hannara could also mean One or Korean, and Saenuri almost sounds like a joyful bird.

Anyway, for 2012, both sides want to sell a major league clash between two new and improved parties, and as a bonus between two women. Change! Broken glass ceilings! The rivals even met a couple of weeks ago for a photo op.

Of course, that only stresses their fear of outsider Ahn Cheol-soo. The netco founder hasn't officially declared himself a candidate yet, but he's been pervasively consulting overseas to raise his credentials (much advertized meeting with Bill Gates).

Seoul Village 2012
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