[VIEWPOINT]MDP is throwing away victory

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[VIEWPOINT]MDP is throwing away victory

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party at one point last spring seemed to take on new life because of the primary elections in which the public participated, but it was beaten hollow in the recent local elections. Such results were not only because of the involvement of President Kim Dae-jung's sons and aides in corruption scandals; the opposition Grand National Party did well in the elections because the party reformed itself. It saw the need to do so because the MDP carried out its own party reforms first and threatened Lee Hoi-chang's popularity with its new candidate, Roh Moo-hyun. Mr. Lee, who has been considered self-righteous, listened to his brain trust's advice to try to soften his image. Voters in the local elections gave good marks to Mr. Lee for his willingness to change.

The leaders of the Millen-nium Democratic Party, including Mr. Roh and the party chairman, Hahn Hwa-kap, are responsible for the election defeat -- not necessarily because they took any specific actions, but because the leadership's strategic failures and incompetence have resulted in such a miserable election outcome. The crushing defeat of the MDP was inevitable for the following four reasons:

First, the Millennium Democratic Party's primary elections were just window dressing and not substantial reform. The primaries were successful performances, but the main actors were the same old faces and the performance collapsed when the leading man faltered. After Mr. Roh won the primaries, even knowing the public's desire for a change in our politics, he visited former President Kim Young-sam and gave him the right to nominate local candidates in Busan. That was Mr. Roh's fatal mistake. It damaged the spirit of the participatory primary elections and dashed public confidence in Mr. Roh. He paid no attention to public opposition to this kind of "old politics" and acted without full consultations with the party. Suddenly it was Mr. Roh, not Lee Hoi-chang, who looked self-righteous and arrogant.

Second, some people say the corruption scandals involving President Kim's sons have cooled the Roh Moo-hyun fever. But I think the reaction of the ruling party and Mr. Roh to the scandals was the more serious problem. Rumors about the sons were circulating during last year's legislative by-elections, and before the MDP primaries, evidence to support the rumors began to be revealed. The public did not pay a great deal of attention to the media reports at first; they were concentrating on the fresh face of Mr. Roh and thought no politician of the past was free from corruption. As Mr. Roh began to receive more scrutiny and the "fever" subsided, public indignation about the president's sons began to grow. The public was apparently disappointed in Mr. Roh, who stressed the importance of private loyalty rather than public welfare, and in the ruling party's leadership, which focused on protecting the Blue House.

Third, the Millennium Democratic Party's failure in its strategy resulted from its own defeatism. The party did not make any efforts to raise the voting rate, but tried to depend on regional ties and voting patterns. That is why it revived its former affiliation with the small United Liberal Democrats. Though Mr. Roh won a lot of votes in the primary elections because he was considered as a figure who opposed regionalism, he permitted the party to renew those ties. Accordingly, potential supporters of the ruling party turned their backs on him.

Fourth, the Millennium Democratic Party should have proposed future-oriented policies, including measures against corruption, in the local elections. They should have done that especially in the Seoul metropolitan area, where regionalism is relatively weak. If a party fails to show a vision for the future, voters will focus on its past performance. But Mr. Roh staked everything on leading his party to victory in the Busan local election; bolstered by Kim Young-sam's support there, he promised that he would ask the party to reconfirm his nomination for the presidency if it lost in those elections.

If the ruling party overlooks such faults in its own leadership, the party will lose any chance to win the presidency. The party should throw out the old Donggyo-dong faction, which is most responsible for corruption and entrenched interests.


The writer is a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University.

by Cho Ki-suk

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