[OUTLOOK]A Whiff of Defeatism in the Ruling Party

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[OUTLOOK]A Whiff of Defeatism in the Ruling Party

The Donggyo-dong faction, the closest to President Kim Dae-jung among the Millennium Dem-ocratic Party's factions, created a stir among its members by suggesting the possibility of having two party conventions - one early next year to choose the party president and the other later to pick the party's nominee for the next presidential election.

Four times since 1948 the party president and presidential nominee were different persons - three in opposition parties and one in the ruling party. By chance all the nominees lost the election. We can not say they lost because the nominees could not control their respective parties. Perhaps lack of confidence in electoral victory led to the separation of the two jobs.

In the final days of the Liberal Party, the opposition Democratic Party was embroiled in fierce internal dissension over the party's presidential nominee for an imminent election. At the convention in late November 1959 Dr. Cho Byong-ok of the party's "old" section was nominated as presidential candidate. But Chang Myon of the "new" section was elected as party president, even though he fell just three votes short of Dr. Cho in the voting for the party's election nominee. Unfortunately, Dr. Cho died of illness at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in the United States right before the election on Feb. 15, 1960. The Democratic Party lost the election mainly because of election fraud on the part of the Liberal Party, but it eventually took power through the April 19 Uprising, a series of popular demonstration that toppled the government of President Rhee Syngman in 1961.

As another election ap-proached in 1967, the opposition parties, Minjung and Shinhan, were merged into the New Demo-cratic Party through the arbitration of activists from civic groups outside of party politics. They completed the merger only after agreeing that the party presidency would go to Yu Chin-o of the Minjung Party and the presidential nomination to Yun Po-sun of the Shinhan Party. After a spell of teeth-grinding, Mr. Yun, the former president who had been ousted by the coup of May 16, 1961, got a chance to take on the usurper, President Park Chung Hee. For their part, the Minjung group was satisfied to keep control over the merged opposition party, since its leadership hardly expected to win the presidential election. And in fact, Mr. Yun lost in a landslide.

Two years later, the ruling party forced through a constitutional revision to enable the incumbent President Park to bid for his third term, and the New Democrats' party president Yu Chin-o's health worsened. Representative Kim Young-sam proclaimed that the time had come for a younger president. But there were two other contenders - Kim Dae-jung and Lee Chul-seung. The idea of separating the party presidency and the election nominee rose anew. At the party caucus in January 1970, Yu Jin-san became party president. In September Kim Dae-jung became the party's candidate, defeating Kim Young-sam who had Mr. Yu's endorsement.

Mr. Kim campaigned well, but the party apparatus under Mr. Yu was largely ineffective. Nor could Mr. Kim overcome the comprehensive election fraud perpetrated by the incumbent government. Party President Yu's giving up his election district, and a big fuss over the sale of legislative candidacies further fragmented the party.

When direct presidential election was revived in 1987, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung became the candidates from rival parties. We heard nothing about separating the two offices because both parties were united behind their candidates.

In the last three elections, the party in office nominated candidates who were not party president. But as the elections ap-proached, the party presidents yielded their positions to the nominees in order to focus party efforts on the election campaign. For the sake of winning the election, the party presidency and presidential candidacy were merged.

Only once did a ruling party separate the two jobs. That was when the New Korea Party and the "little Democratic Party" were merged into the Grand National Party. The president of then-ruling New Korea, Lee Hoi-chang, won the 1997 election nomination after giving the party post to Cho Soon, leader of the Democratic Party.

The Millennium Democratic Party is thinking of separating the two offices for the 2002 presidential election, making both cooperate through the presidential election. It is generally accepted within the party that the effect would be that the Donggyo-dong faction would keep control over the party, whoever takes the candidacy.

Our political culture would care little about who was party president once the election result became clear. All power would be immediately centered on the president-elect. If so, then what the Donggyo-dong faction may really be thinking is to postpone the lame-duck phenomenon as long as possible and to keep control over the party after it loses the election. From the lesson of the history I can not help but conclude so.

The ruling party should think carefully about whether it wants two party conventions at the risk of being seen as defeatist.


The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Seong Byong-wook

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