UPP should be reborn as genuine progressive party
The minor opposition Unified Progressive Party (UPP) made a fresh start Sunday, with the launch of a new leadership following a period of crisis caused by party members who gained their seats in the National Assembly through vote rigging during a ballot to elect proportional representation candidates for the April 11 parliamentary elections.
Members of the left-leaning party sang the national anthem and saluted the national flag at the inauguration ceremony Sunday and some of them paid a visit to the National Cemetery in Seoul ― apparently symbolic gestures to appease public criticism against the party’s hitherto pro-North Korea stance.
Kang Ki-kab, who represents the party’s reformist faction, was elected as the new leader with a comfortable victory over Kang Byung-gee supported by the old mainstream faction that consists mostly of North Korea sympathizers. In his inaugural speech, Kang showed unswerving determination to invigorate his party, stating, ``The UPP won’t stop making bold reforms.’’
However, tough challenges await him.
To begin with, whether to kick out Reps. Lee Seok-ki and Kim Jae-yeon, who have been under pressure to leave the party for being elected through the rigged primary, should be settled first. The party’s disciplinary committee has already reached a decision to expel the two defiant lawmakers. The party’s lawmakers are slated to meet Thursday to discuss the issue but the old mainstream faction is reacting fiercely to the reformist faction’s move to oust them.
Of the UPP’s 13 lawmakers, six are against Kang’s move to expel them, while five support the expulsion. The remaining two legislators had previously remained neutral but allegedly shifted in favor of expelling them. The UPP’s future is certain to be murky if it fails to kick them out, in light of the fact that the party must restore the basics of democracy.
The most tricky issue would be to put an end to the controversy over the party’s pro-North Korea direction. Although Kang, the new party chairman, hinted at changes in its blindness toward North Korea’s human right conditions, hereditary power transfer and armed provocations during a radio interview, the UPP should bear in mind the fact that this would be the last chance for it to restore public confidence by expressing its clear position on North Korea and cutting ties with the reclusive nation’s juche or self-reliance ideology. This will be a tough job, too, given that a number of North Korea sympathizers still remain in the party.
Restoring relations with the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) ahead of the December presidential election would be an urgent task for the nation’s third largest party.
In Korea where conservative values prevail, it’s never too much to emphasize the importance of progressive values ― giving due attention to the underprivileged ― non-regular workers, farmers and minorities.
We expect the vote rigging scandal to serve as a catalyst for the UPP to be reborn as a genuine progressive party through broad-based reform and by a reorientation of policy direction.