Conservatives win ― for now
Liberals ought to grasp meaning of voters’ verdict
The ruling Saenuri Party won an easier-than-expected victory, and its de facto leader Park Geun-hye proved her nickname ``election queen” was right, once again.
But what made analysts call the conservative governing party’s clinging to a bare majority in the National Assembly elections Wednesday a ``stunning upset” was the opposition’s failure to capitalize politically on the dismal performance of the Lee Myung-bak administration.
Some opposition leaders would like to regard the just-ended poll as a duel of campaign heads ― between Rep. Park, a likely presidential candidate, and Han Myeong-sook, virtual caretaker of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP). The match between fighters of different weights may be one reason, but hardly the main one.
Nor is it desirable to analyze the election results from the aspect of campaign strategy alone. Of course, Park was shrewd enough to distance herself from the unpopular President Lee, blunting the opposition’s slogan of ``Let’s judge Lee.” Her approach to traditional swing provinces of Chungcheong and Gangwon, probably in advance of her presidential electioneering in December, was also a game-changing factor.
Yet the single-most decisive factor was Park’s slogan of ``politics for the future, not the past.”
True, the motto was abstract devoid of any specific, plausible details. But so were most of the campaign pledges of the opposition alliance composed of the DUP and more leftists Unified Progressive Party (UPP). Liberals might have thought the conservative leader’s refrain rather ironic, as her views on political and economic democratization couldn’t deviate far from those of her father and political mentor, ex-President Park Chung-hee, at their roots.
Still the liberal alliance must have forgotten that elections should move beyond ideological warfare toward presenting realistic hope for change, preferably in detail but at least through slogans. The DUP’s bold but mistaken nomination of some radical, free-talking candidates also backfired less because parliamentary jobs require at least a modicum of dignity than because it appeared to voters that the opposition parties were resorting to ideological avant-gardes instead of concrete promises to change their hard lives.
Park, who had been the politician closest to presidency for the past nine years or so, should be thinking her dream will finally come true this year.
There is a caveat, though. Considering Park and her Saenuri aides changed the gloomy predictions in just four months, eight months is a long enough period to make political commentators fools not just once, but twice in Korea’s volatile politics.
There are too many variables to say for sure now. Such as President Lee’s misjudgment the outcome of a carte blanche to push ahead with what he has been doing, and Park’s failure or complacency to check him.
The only way forward for the opposition is to come up with less radical, less past-oriented and more futuristic and detailed policies and programs to reassure weary voters. And hope the voter turnout ― which still remained at a lamentable rate of 54 percent compared with the OECD average of 70 percent ― to sharply increase by then.
Like life, politics is full of ups and downs, a blessing in disguise.