S. Korea’s embattled ruling party changes its name


SEOUL — South Korea’s conservative ruling party changed its name Thursday to try to shore up sagging support in a key election year, but skeptics called it a cosmetic measure which would fail to impress voters.

The Grand National Party (GNP) announced it has chosen Saenuri (New World) as its new title from some 10,000 suggestions made on the Internet.

“We will be reborn as an entirely new party … I believe that people will trust us again if we continue our reform efforts with firm determination,” said interim party chief Park Geun-Hye, its likely presidential candidate.

The party now holds 166 of the 299 parliamentary seats along with the presidency. But it anticipates a struggle in the April general election and the presidential poll in December amid a sharp slide in voter confidence.

In a shock result, it lost the Seoul mayoralty last October to an opposition-backed left-leaning candidate. It is now trying to shed its image as a party for the rich and to move leftward.

A major bribery scandal involving the election of a party chief in 2008 dealt the embattled conservatives a further blow.

Surveys show the party’s popularity waning because of growing discontent over social and economic inequality, and as economic growth slows. The left-leaning opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) has an approval rating of 39.7 percent against 29.1 percent for the GNP, according to a survey by the Realmeter agency in late January.

Many are skeptical about whether the former GNP’s new name will pay off. South Korean political parties have made a habit of renaming themselves in election years as they merge or split to win more votes.

The DUP — which also faces allegations of vote-buying at a party election — chose its current name last month after joining with major union leaders and other left-leaning groups. It was the third name change in eight years. Lee Junhan, professor of politics at Incheon University, said the frequent name changes were a relic of decades of military-backed regimes, when opponents were jailed or barred from politics. The nation achieved democracy in 1987. “It was a survival tactic for opposition parties to quickly merge or split as their leaders were often absent under political repression,” he said, calling the practice “one of the most backward traits” of the country’s politics.