Most urgent is to open party's doors wide to outsiders
Park Young-sun, the interim leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), apologized to the public on Tuesday for its defeat in the July 30 by-elections and vowed to break away from old practices.
In her first press conference as the new chief, Park, who concurrently serves as the party's floor leader, pledged to do her utmost to rebuild the largest opposition party by winning the hearts and minds of the people, saying that the NPAD "failed to honor their will.'' She said the new interim emergency leadership, tentatively named the "committee for public empathy and reform,'' will be comprised of people with whom the public can empathize, including those from outside the party.
Yet it's unclear whether the three-term lawmaker can be the Joan of Arc of the liberal party, which is facing a grave crisis in the wake of its crushing defeat at last week's by-elections. This is because there are already signs that factional strife is intensifying in the NPAD over the cause of its defeat in the elections that they could not afford to lose in the run-up to the launch of the new party leadership early next year.
Hard-liners who consist mostly of former loyalists to the late President Roh Moo-hyun attribute the latest election defeat to the party's reduced visibility in the struggle against the ruling camp and call for strengthening its progressive ideological lines. In contrast, moderates claim that the blind pursuit of struggles has resulted in the party becoming estranged from the public and urge the party to focus on tackling bread-and-butter issues for the people.
As reasons for the election defeat, political watchers cited the party's bungled "strategic nominations'' and unprincipled alliances made with progressive parties. But more importantly, the NPAD had been oblivious to issues regarding people's livelihoods, swayed by hard-liners who called for anachronistic outdoor protests every time there was a conflict with the ruling party.
If the past is any guide, it's questionable if the emergency committee, led by Park, will succeed in reforming the lethargic party, this time. In January last year, one month after its defeat in the presidential election, the then Democratic United Party, the precursor of the NPAD, launched an emergency committee, which vowed to forsake vested interests and change itself completely.
But nothing has changed despite much talk. An innovation package, which was hammered out after hectic debates, was not even put into practice, and an assessment report on the presidential election was ignored by the party's pro-Roh faction that claimed it was intended to attack it. The result was the NPAD's stunning defeat in the by-elections in the midst of what should have been a political environment absolutely in the party's favor ― the aftermath of the Sewol ferry catastrophe.
The launch of the interim committee should be a wake-up call to the largest opposition party that still sticks to political causes without offering alternatives. The first thing Park ought to do is open the party's doors wide to outsiders so that competent people can join the party. There will be no future for the NPAD unless it conducts reforms with a firm determination to change all things.