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 'Without reform, we can’t win voters’ hearts'

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#Nurarihyon#
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PostSubject: 'Without reform, we can’t win voters’ hearts'   Thu Oct 28, 2010 7:12 am




This is the first in a series of interviews featuring the nation’s leading women politicians on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of The Korea Times that falls on Monday. ― ED.

By Kim Ji-soo

It’s a good time to be a Korean woman. Walk along the crowded streets of Gwanghwamun or Jongno, hordes of career women are seen walking briskly to and fro. Unlike their mother’s generation, these women are advancing into every field and working with the promise of having a real impact.

One of them is Rep. Na Kyung-won of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP). Na, 46, is arguably not the average Korean woman. The two-term lawmaker had a stable job as a judge before jumping into the chaotic world of politics. It’s a world where senior kingpins still have a great say in who is awarded party nominations.

As a member of the party’s decision-making group, the Supreme Council, Rep. Na is spearheading a special committee to revamp the party’s nomination process.

“We would like to adopt something like the U.S. primaries. We are looking to hand over the power to pick candidates from party heavyweights to voters,” Na said in an interview with The Korea Times. “I don’t think we can win voters’ hearts without any party reform. Without that, there won’t be any election victory.”

Political parties in Korea have largely been determined by the charisma of their leaders such as former President Kim Young-sam and the late former President Kim Dae-jung. They were political bosses as well, doling out candidacies for local elections to those who supported them.

“It’s time we should stop distributing by ourselves, and make sure that our party candidates embody the values and the policies of the voters we represent,” she said.

Nonetheless, she is aware that it’s hard to break away from such tradition.

“We have seen how strong ‘lining up’ during the 2007 presidential election was rewarded. Some have even said that they will never stay neutral anymore. Because ‘lining up’ (to a powerful political boss) is related to party nominations,” Na said.

She has to combat such fears. That’s because once her committee’s reform plans are set, they are expected to go into effect starting with the next general elections in 2012 that will take place just months before the party’s convention to pick its presidential candidate.

“The possible presidential candidates themselves might be anxious to (award) their allies. We should realize it’s important that GNP candidates win,” she said.

There have been others who attempted to revamp the party nomination process, but without success. What makes her think she can produce a different outcome?

“I think the times call for it (the change). And I am a type of person who is soft but strong inside,” she said, as a way of explaining her type of female leadership ― soft and detailed ― that may well be effective in the new era.

Women are coming to the fore in Korea. One example came Wednesday, when the government announced that 42 percent of those who passed this year’s rigorous national bar exam were women. Back when Na passed the state exam in 1992, women made up less than10 percent, or roughly 20 out of the entire 300, she said.

Na first stepped into the political arena as a special adviser to the Grand National Party’s former presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang in 2002. One of her strongest motives was the injustices she suffered as a mother of a daughter with Down’s Syndrome. She felt she could do more as a legislator than as a judge for the disabled.

To this day, broadening rights for the disabled and the weak remain her top policy priority. She serves as chief of the preparation committee to host the 2013 Special Olympics in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. She also heads WeCan, a special group to share talent with disabled children.

Her climb to a post of responsibility was swift. She became a freshmen lawmaker in 2004 and was reelected for another four-year term in 2008.

In 2006, the ruling party tapped her to become the party spokeswoman, one of the first spokeswomen for a political party. Her tenure inspired other political parties to follow suit. Now the main opposition Democratic Party’s spokeswoman is Jeon Hyun-hee and Liberty Forward’s Party’s spokeswoman is Park Sun-young.

She also won the most popular votes in the party’s Supreme Council race in July this year

Na feels good about having opened a new door for fellow female legislators.

“I feel a deep responsibility and also feel good about having set a precedent,” she said.

It’s such frank confidence that is putting her already on par with leading women politicians, such as none other than Park Geun-hye, former GNP chairwoman and a strong presidential contender.

“She is one of the party’s strong presidential bidders, and I hope good things for her. She is an asset to the party,” Na said. Yet at the same time, she acknowledges her drive to change how party nominations are given might go against Park, a powerful party figure.

Such confidence or lack of hesitation to speak her mind has put her among the ranks of possible presidential contenders.

“Oh… it’s not the time for me to talk about that. I will do my best in my lot of today,” she said.

On rumors that her supporters were already working to prep her as a presidential bidder, she lightly dismissed the idea, saying that she too just has her supporters.

Asked if she would be willing to aid other presidential contenders such as Park, she said she was positive on the idea.
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