Rebirth of progressives
Only thorough self-reform ensures leftists’ survival
Korea’s political progressives, a perennial minority, have often resorted to radical, and violent, tactics to make themselves seen and heard. They destroyed furniture at the National Assembly Secretariat and detonated a tear gas canister in its main chamber. Those misconducts were largely forgiven, as voters recognize the need for a party that represents the poorest and weakest classes of society.
Never to be forgiven is its election rigging that happened in the course of picking candidates for lawmakers through proportional representation. It is not because the progressives have long stressed their moral superiority but because the act was an egregious breach of the first and foremost principle ― just and fair procedure ― required of any political group.
If officials in the Unified Progressive Party (UPP), an assortment of left-wing parties, had thought the end still justifies the means, they might have been living with the memory of the 1980s when pro-democracy protesters had to fight violence with violence. Those days have long gone.
The UPP non-mainstreamers were right to call for four party co-leaders and 14 proportional representation candidates elected through ballot-rigging to resign. Nothing less would save it from the current crisis.
If the mainstreamers refuse to accept the demand, the UPP had better split itself and go back to its pre-unification state.
The internal feud within UPP is far deeper than factional strife in other political parties. The mainstreamers, consisting of the pro-North Korean National Liberation (NL) faction, have been increasingly alienated from ordinary Koreans’ sentiments, as they have kept silence on Pyongyang’s wrongdoings, such as its nuclear gamble, hereditary succession and rampant human rights abuse. And this is why the non-mainstreamers, led by labor leaders, had broken away from their former alliance.
No Koreans will deny the supreme goal of the nation’s reunification. Yet it is also true few Koreans in their right minds can support the North Korean regime after watching all the inhumane, anachronistic atrocities committed by the communist leadership. The different North Korea policies among major political parties here should be about how to minimize the pain and plight of North Korean residents by inducing a soft landing for the isolated regime, not about whether to sympathize with Pyongyang’s policies and propagandas. There is no room for the latter.
No less troubled is the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), which has relied on, and will have to do so again in December, an election alliance with the UPP.
Critics in and outside of the DUP say the left-of-center party lost votes in the April 11 parliamentary elections by blindly following the radical policies of the leftist UPP, in opposing, for example, the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and the naval base construction on Jeju Island.
We beg to differ.
The DUP’s unexpected setback is less due to the ``policy alliance” itself than the lack of plausible alternatives. If the largest opposition party judged the FTA and Jeju base did not help to improve the lives of working-class Koreans and local residents, it should have voiced opposition and come up with steps to supplement the government plans rather than trying to nullify them. It’s long past the time liberals and progressives could win voter sympathy by just opposing government projects. Attacks alone are not enough unless accompanied by appreciation from voters on opposition’s visions and policies.
Korean voters may accept socialists and anti-capitalists, but will not forgive foul-mouthed, bad-behaving, dictatorship-defending rule-breakers. The leftist UPP must be reborn or break up by their ideological and policy priority. The center-left DUP should also be careful in making an alliance ― accept or reject ― good and bad parts of its ally.
The era of ideological confrontation is gone, what today’s Koreans want are specific, implementable policies to improve society, be they progressives or conservatives.