Opposition alliance passes muster
By Lee Tae-hoon
Once again, liberal parties have proven that there is no better recipe for electoral success than the creation of a political alliance ahead of elections.
Few would deny that the ruling Saenuri Party lost at least 10 to 20 National Assembly seats up-for-grabs this time due to a nationwide move to form a joint opposition front against it.
Political observers say the opposition parties’ painstaking efforts to adhere to their original plan to establish a liberal coalition to check the Saenuri Party has paid off.
They note that their success owes much to lingering hostile public sentiment against the governing party’s unilateral endorsement of controversial legislation, such as cross-media ownership and the four-river projects.
The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) and United Progressive Party (UPP) fielded unified candidates in constituencies across the country to prevent the liberal vote from being split.
Oh Byeong-yoon, a unified candidate from the DUP, would not have been able to win in the heavily contested electoral district of Seogu-B in Gwangju without the support of the UPP against the Saenuri Party’s incumbent lawmaker Lee Jung-hyun.
Out of 246 electoral districts, the far-left leaning UPP managed to convince the DP not to field candidates or won joint primaries in 34 constituencies, including Seogu-B.
In return, the UPP agreed not to run against the DUP in 60 constituencies nationwide, increasing the chances of opposition candidates winning against contenders running on the ruling party ticket.
Among many DUP candidates who benefited from the liberal solidarity was Park Hye-ja, a professor of public administration at Honam University in Gwangju, who crushed rival candidates by double digits.
The DUP would have had a little chance of stopping the Saenuri Party, which had 162 seats in the unicameral legislature, from commanding an absolute majority status without its alliance with the leftist UPP.
The journey for opposition solidarity was not all that smooth as the joint front showed signs of a rift when UPP co-Chairwoman Lee Jung-hee refused to renounce her candidacy even after she was found to have defeated the incumbent DUP lawmaker Kim Hee-chull in a joint primary by vote-rigging.
Lee resisted calls to surrender her nomination as a candidate of the two-party alliance, but later conceded after a meeting with DUP Chairwoman Han Myeong-sook and the liberal camp’s strongest presidential candidate Moon Jae-in.
The withdrawal led to volunteer concessions from both the DUP and UPP. This also helped solidify the bond between the two and intensify their joint campaigning efforts.
The DUP decided not to field candidate Baek Hye-ryeon, a former prosecutor, in support of a UPP candidate in a constituency in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province.
As the names of the two parties suggest both the DUP and UPP are political parties created as a result of mergers.
The main opposition Democratic Party, which temporarily changed its name to the United Democratic Party prior to the 2008 National Assembly elections, rebranded itself in December last year as the DUP after a merger with a coalition of civic groups and an umbrella labor group.
The minor opposition Democratic Labor Party merged with two other left-leaning minority parties, including a more moderate liberal party named the People’s Participation Party led by former Welfare Minister Rhyu Si-min.
Observers say this paved a way for big-name figures, such as former presidential chief aide Moon and Moon Sung-keun, a noted actor and son of late democracy fighter Rev. Moon Ik-hwan, to enter mainstream politics.
However, many predict their strategic alliance will not last long because many supporters of the DUP are strongly against policies the UPP promotes that see the United States as an oppressor of South Korea and call for the introduction of pro-North Korean socialist policies.