[EDITORIALS]Crisis in the Ruling PartyThe demeanor of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party these days leads us to wonder if it has forsaken its role as the party of the incumbent president. It seems to lack coherence, and is doing little in the wake of the defeat of all its seven candidates in the April 26 local elections. True, party Chairman Kim Joong-kwon acknowledged on April 27 that the the party should "humbly gauge and listen to the public." But inaction makes the words hollow. Either the party has no intention to learn the cause of its defeat or it does not have the capacity to do so.
The party's intransigency was forecast, to some extent, when President Kim Dae-jung ordered his party members to "unify behind the Chairman Kim Joong-kwon's leadership" a day after the election defeat. The leadership must have thought that with passage of time the Korean public with its hot temperament would soon forget about the policy errors of the ruling party that may have caused the election defeat. They were probably thinking along the same lines on April 30 when 99 out of 137 lawmakers of the ruling coalition abstained from voting on a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Lee Han-dong. Only a party that thinks itself above public opinion could pull off such an stunt and claim that it broke no rules.
A proposal to field the ruling party's presidential candidate as soon as possible, possibly ahead of the June 2002 local elections, which came Wednesday from Kim Joong-kwon is another case of intransigency.
The chairman claimed that the ruling party will have a better chance of winning the June 2002 elections if the party's presidential candidate led the campaign. The scheme leads us to wonder, once again, whether the ruling party is trying to deflect public criticism by funneling public energy into power games and political maneuvering without tending to the causes of the flight of public support for it and the current administration. The chairman watered down his remarks later, and the Blue House also acted speedily to curb the political controversy stemming from the chairman's words.
The leadership is also turning a deaf ear to the growing calls for self-introspection and reexamination within the party. Two members of the Supreme Council, Representatives Kim One-ki and Chyung Dai-chul, have openly blasted the party leadership, a rarity in a party firmly ruled by political bosses loyal to President Kim Dae-jung. Representative Kim opined, "With things going the way they are, it will be impossible for our party to win back public support." Mr. Chyung went further, saying, "If we could, we should change the entire cabinet and show the people a different ruling party." He again raised the issue of ousting Police Commissioner General Lee Moo-young. The rank-and-file members, mostly first and second-term lawmakers, criticized the way the no-confidence vote was carried out as "the expediency that will go down in the books of legislative history."
We empathize with the ruling party's sense of crisis. Without changes, it may well lose in next year's local elections and the December 2002 presidential election.
But no tactic, no matter how skillfully employed, will grow into a stronger strategy for the party, unless it rekindles the dying embers of public support. The ruling party should put the politics of obstinacy behind it and work with the opposition to end partisan confrontations. It should focus on a soft landing for the economy and reform programs. That is the only way that to turn the public sentiment its way.