[VIEWPOINT]Parties in turmoil lose elections

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[VIEWPOINT]Parties in turmoil lose elections

Voters have a history of being confused by political parties, which are constantly forming, breaking apart and reforming into new permutations. The latest upheaval in the Millennium Democratic Party is another chapter in the same book. The confusion is understandable because the reasons advanced for this latest attempt at realignment have nothing to do with social divisions or ideological differences; nor do they have to do with differences about new issues like the environment or women's rights. Although the demands for a realignment of the MDP are said to be based on an attempt to save the troubled party, they seem to be more an attempt by politicians to avoid doing their duty, and will probably act instead to hasten the party's decline.

It seems as if the desire for a new party is an attempt by some Millennium Democrats to have it both ways. They want to inherit the power of the current administration but avoid taking any responsibility for some of its actions. That effort to avoid responsibility is a serious problem for responsible politics. The MDP must take responsibility for the events of the last five years; few voters will be fooled by a renamed party. The wrapper does not change the contents; responsibility for misgovernment cannot be erased by a change of name.

It is also interesting to note that a party that failed to overcome internal conflicts and unify the forces inside the party has never succeeded in coming to power. Beginning with the Democratic Party after the April 19 uprising against Syngman Rhee in 1960 to the Grand National Party in 1997, voters have turned their backs on disintegrating parties. Voters prefer a well-organized party with internal integration rather than a party suffering from internal disputes and enmity.

The Democratic Party in 1960 was divided into old and new wings and finally split into two different parties, making the nation vulnerable to the military coup that followed. Even after that, the Democratic Party failed to unite. Therefore, during the 1963 elections the Democratic Republican Party, formed by the military leaders, captured 63 percent of the National Assembly seats although it won only 35.5 percent of the votes. This phenomenon continued after the assassination of President Park Chung Hee on Oct. 26, 1979. Internal conflicts within the democratic movement in 1980 doomed Seoul's chances for electing a democratic government. Roh Tae-woo won the presidential election despite the public enthusiasm for democracy shown in the June 1987 mass protests.

The last two presidential elections showed the same pattern. Kim Young-sam's victory in 1992 was a byproduct of political collusion among three parties in pursuit of their party interests. The result was that Mr. Kim defeated Kim Dae-jung in that year's election. Although the opposition party at that time was not in disarray, the effect of the merger was too great to overcome. Kim Dae-jung won for similar reasons in 1997. Compared to the cooperation and political consolidation of Kim Jong-pil and Kim Dae-jung, the Grand National Party was in disarray after defeated contenders for its nomination left the party. The voters made a rational decision not to vote for the chaotic GNP.

Since consolidating a party's political strengths is the first step in winning an election, the MDP's discussion about forming a new party seems to be illogical. Although they assert that they can win an election after forming a new party with politicians who hold similar ideas, voters would only see such a split as a manifestation of division. If a party is not unified, voters will not trust the party to run the government. For that reason, the MDP should not waste valuable time discussing the formation of a new party but rather unite behind its presidential candidate and resolve discord within the party. Voters will trust and support a party that embraces its members for a great cause and extends its boundaries even if there are disagreements.


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The writer is a political science professor at Kyungnam University.

by Shim Ji-yeon

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