- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

SEOUL — Pitching for votes took on a new meaning in Seoul last week when the main opposition Grand National Party established its campaign office for the April 15 legislative elections — in a tent.

Having elected Korea’s first female party chief, Park Geun-hye, on Tuesday, the GNP moved its offices into a set of tents in a piece of political theater apparently designed to show the public that it can raise funds legitimately.

“We are negotiating right now with a foreign company that is interested in acquiring our headquarters building,” said a source at the party. The party headquarters sits on prime real estate in Seoul’s Yeouido district, home to Korea’s financial industry and the site of the National Assembly. The tented encampment is on a parking lot near the Assembly building.

The GNP is reeling from charges that it collected slush funds of around $80 million from businesses in advance of the 2002 presidential elections — much of it delivered in trucks stuffed with cash.

The party, which has a majority in the Assembly, is also suffering owing to its vote to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun on March 12, a move that proved unpopular with the electorate.

Polls suggest that the pro-Roh Uri (Our Open) Party has 70 percent support with the election less than three weeks away.

“Korean politics now is a race to the bottom, to reach the public’s heart,” said Mun Jung-in, a professor of political science at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “This is a wonderful way of expressing humbleness, but what is important now is substance, not [symbolism].”

Uri Party lawmakers, facing accusations that their own headquarters building was funded by corrupt practices, said they too would consider moving into a tent.

However, the future of the GNP’s tents is uncertain. The city government has reportedly called for their removal, citing fire hazards.

“Let me give you my mobile number in case you need to call me again,” said the GNP source from campaign headquarters. “I am not sure how much longer I will be here.”

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