The way for ruling party to survive
As Seoul is the capital of South Korea and the home of over half its population, it’s natural that the city is the primary symbol that people think of when they think of the nation. The mayor of Seoul, then, can be considered second on the scale of power in Korea.
In the run-up to the Oct. 26 by-election for the mayor, the candidate of the Democratic Party (DP), the major opposition party, was crushed by an independent candidate in an election to determine the mayoral candidate for the coalition opposition camp. This independent candidate stunned the candidate of the governing Grand National Party (GNP) in a stunning victory in the by-election.
After losing the nomination of the coalition of the opposition to the independent candidate, Park Won-soon, the DP asked him to join, only to be rejected. In the end, the party was not even able to send its own candidate to the mayoral election of Seoul.
Despite this, the DP swallowed its pride and followed Park to help his campaign, but it did not help much. This led him to ask Prof. Ahn Cheol-soo for his support, and people believe that Park was elected due to Ahn’s surging popularity among the people.
It was really miserable to watch the DP to claim that Park’s win was an “indirect victory” for the party, even though it did not have much to do with the win in reality. This is the first time I have ever heard someone claiming an indirect victory. It is like saying a woman “a little bit pregnant.” I cannot help saying that it is a rare happening in the U.S. It is as if the DP turned into a campaign broker.
The failures of the GNP played a great role in the victory of the independent candidate, the first one to be elected mayor of Seoul in history. GNP candidate Na Kyung-won did not make the middle class feel close to her. In my opinion the failure in the election rests fully on the party.
It was clear that the GNP was surprised by the crushing defeat that it never expected, and anxiety about the coming April general elections showed on the faces of its lawmakers, whose districts were in Seoul or Gyeonggi Province, an area surrounding the capital.
It is not right that GNP members criticize each other, blaming the defeat because of such scandals as President Lee Myung-bak’s proposed private luxury home after his retirement. The GNP needs a solution to survive the coming April elections, and also needs to do some self-reflecting. Many conservatives have turned their backs on the GNP.
Some people point out that the political philosophy of the GNP is hard to pin down. If it is a conservative party, it should act like one, but it proposed a free tuition program just because the DP proposed a free lunch program for schoolchildren. The party has been criticized for adopting populism in order to get votes in whichever ways to maintain its grasp on power.
In the case of the free lunch program, conservatives should have tried to find an alternative such as limiting the beneficiaries of the program to the children of the poor, instead of just opposing the program itself. Conservatives should have opposed making children have the same lunch as others by depriving parents of the right to make their own children’s lunch. The Republic of Korea is not a totalitarian country like North Korea, but a country that respects individual rights.
If the concern is that the poor students, 20 percent of the whole number of students, might lose their self-respect, a voucher program similar to the one in the U.S. can be adopted. It is a program that provides money for students who cannot bring lunch because their parents are too busy to fix the lunch; this program solves the self-respect problem by making sure nobody knows who is on the free lunch program.
Conservatives should talk about the cost of the free lunch program and how to pay for the cost. It is the responsibility of conservatives to look into those matters item by item to check whether or not people’s taxes are properly spent. Conservatives claim that the money should be spent on job creation to grow the economy so that there may be an opportunity for everyone to work hard to earn money.
It is not at all opposing a social welfare program, but just looking into its cost effectiveness. Conservatives claim that going too far with welfare programs, like Greece did, should be avoided to prevent a nation from becoming lazy to its peril.
These days, conservatives are ridiculed as idiots stuck in the past and treated as old people who went out of date. Even though per-capita gross national income (GNI) of Korea is only $23,000, the way in which people in Korea spend money is more wasteful than people in the U.S., whose per-capita GNI is over $48,000.
The GNP is also going in all directions, only proposing welfare programs to get votes. Its original conservative idealism has already disappeared. The Republican Party of the U.S. is a conservative party, and together with the liberal Democratic Party, it has successfully continued the two-party political system in America for 250 years.
A conservative party and a liberal party should have clearly different ideologies. The country progresses only when they keep each other in check under clearly different ideologies. To win in the April elections, the GNP should boldly find its place as a conservative party, even starting from now. It should have shown a leadership to confront the left, even if it would have drawn criticisms.
There is not much time left until the general elections. Some of the press exaggerated the defeat in the mayoral by-election as if it was the end of the GNP. However, the party should not lose its courage, but should work to unite the scattered conservatives. That is the only way to survive.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the KimChangJoon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com). The views expressed in the above article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of The Korea Times.