Main opposition‘s way
Ideological slanting leads to desertion of centrist voters
If the National Assembly elections were held today, the liberal opposition parties would likely snatch parliamentary control away from the conservatives. Yet a month is too long a time to take anything for granted, especially in the extremely volatile electoral politics of Korea, where even the presidency is decided by a razor-thin margin. The battle has not even begun yet.
On Saturday, the center-left Democratic United Party (DUP) and leftist Unified Progressive Party (UPP) agreed on details to field unified candidates against the right-of-center Saenuri Party. The joint front came in contrast to signs of a split in the ruling conservative camp because of factionalized candidate selection. The liberals seem to have taken the advantageous position for the April 11 vote, at least for now.
The opposition solidarity was a must for DUP Chairwoman Han Myeong-sook, who was under fire for plunging support ratings because of her undue preference of loyalists of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun.
While the Saenuri Party’s candidate selection problems are due to the presidential ambition of its leader, Park Geun-hye, those of the DUP may have much to do with Han’s resolve to avenge the death of her former boss, as she cannot run for president herself under party rules.
Both camps are heading in the wrong direction. It is not desirable for one political party ― or ideological group ― to take both parliamentary and presidential power in view of democracy’s basic principle of checks and balances, although such a monopoly of governance will likely happen here this year. Far less acceptable is the possibility of major elections turning into proxy wars of two deceased presidents ― Park Chung-hee (through his daughter) and Roh Moo-hyun (through his protege).
Elections should be for the future, not the past. Voters should be able to select groups that provide the best welfare, security and democracy.
Park Geun-hye will reveal clear limitations in overcoming the legacy ― and halo ― of her father. Even her conservative rivals admit Park would not be a completely democratic leader. Rep. Chung Mong-joon, while commenting on Park’s one-sided selection procedure, said, ``The shadow of authoritarian reform is looming over our party.” Park promises better welfare than the Lee Myung-bak administration, but the Saenuri Party’s ideological limitations could stand in the way to her moving toward universal welfare, something most Koreans want now.
So the DUP is right to call for restoring economic equity, more freedom and inter-Korean detente. But the largest opposition party seems to be going the wrong way to get over its emotional anchor. Nothing illustrates this better than the party’s campaign pledge to repeal the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and a controversial naval base project on the southern resort island of Jeju, both initiated by former President Roh.
The DUP says the Lee administration aggravated the two projects. Then the answer should be improving, not scrapping, them. It is understandable the DUP direly needs the far-left partner’s support, and the left-of-center party feels the need to differentiate from the Saenuri Party, which is increasingly encroaching on the former’s ideological turf in economic and military affairs.
This notwithstanding, the DUP needs to stand firm and not become the UPP, especially from the viewpoint of electoral politics. Both the benefits and harms of the FTA are exaggerated, and many European countries are successfully combining an open economy and a welfare state. China’s strengthening of its claims on Ieodo points to the need for Korea to revive the concept of an ocean navy.
Korea cannot prosper by isolating itself economically and militarily. And no political parties have won elections without the support of centrist swing voters.