[NOTEBOOK]Rare opportunity for ruling party

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[NOTEBOOK]Rare opportunity for ruling party

The Millennium Democratic Party is undergoing noticeable changes. A ruling party effort to systematically guarantee the party's democracy is materializing. Most notably, the ruling party's reform committee plans to adopt a primary for next year's presidential election. According to the party's constitution, a closed primary will be held in which 100,000 members of the Millennium Democratic Party are expected to vote for a nominee. With an open primary, more than 1 million people, including electorates, could participate. The party is also considering a compromise between the two primary methods so that citizens can participate with party members.

Regardless of the method, once it is in place, primaries likely will be adopted for assembly elections and local government elections as well.

Politicians and scholars anticipate that democratization of political parties through a primary will completely change our party politics. Most dubious practices like hierarchical and behind-the-scene nominations will disappear. Big payments to receive a nomination and factional nominations will vanish. It will be a political revolution in which political power passes from a few leaders to a large number of people.

Of course, there will be a lot of obstacles before it becomes reality. Our political culture is impoverished. Because many parties have dissolved and united with others, the United Liberal Democrats, formed in May 1995, is the oldest established party. Even in the large parties with scores of National Assembly representatives, such as the Grand National Party and the Millennium Democratic Party, few party members pay party fees. Intellectuals and opinion leaders rarely participate in the operation of parties' provincial branches, and chiefs of the provincial branches are blocking free voting by delegates.

To achieve an open primary, in which nonpartisan citizens can participate, the party rule that allows only members of parties to participate in selection of nominees should be amended. The Grand National Party and the United Liberal Democrats may not easily agree to such a bottom-up nomination process since they are still under the direct control of party presidents.

It has been argued that with open primaries, supporters of opposition parties would intervene and distort the votes; and that closed primaries would be the same as before, with chiefs of the provincial branches leading the nomination. Provincial campaigns might exacerbate conflicts between provinces and lead to a popularity-led election.

Most of all, it is not certain that party members with vested rights agree to the primary system. Top-down nominations based on party hierarchy have enabled the three Kims -- Kim Dae-jung, Kim Jong-pil and Kim Young-sam -- and other political leaders to maintain their power and dominate their parties. It is questionable that lawmakers in the Donggyo-dong camp, who are now main forces within the Millennium Democratic Party, will agree to adopt primaries.

Despite these obstacles, the ruling party has an unprecedented opportunity. Kim Dae-jung has resigned as president of the ruling party, removing the biggest obstacle to an election to choose the party leader. This golden opportunity might never be seen again.

In fact, the Millennium Democratic Party has a lot of resources. President Kim Dae-jung won 10.32 million votes in the last presidential election, and Rhee In-je, who has joined forces with the ruling party, won 4.92 million votes.

Despite its strength at the polls, the ruling party long ago lost political leadership to Lee Hoi-chang, the president of the Grand National Party, who won 9.93 million votes in the last election. There could be a number of reasons, but most of all it is because the ruling party was seen as Kim Dae-jung's private party and a party of North and South Jeolla provinces, which led many disappointed supporters to leave. The Millennium Democratic Party should take advantage of this opportunity and adopt various measures for democratization of the party, including a primary. If this succeeds, the party might have a better chance in local elections and next year's presidential election, and the nation's politics can make great progress.


The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Gyo-joon

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