[VIEWPOINT]Ruling Party Reaches Fork in the Road

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[VIEWPOINT]Ruling Party Reaches Fork in the Road

The Millennium Democratic Party is asking President Kim Dae-jung to withdraw his decision to resign from president of the party. The executive party officials' meeting adopted a resolution Thursday requesting Mr. Kim to withdraw his resignation, and some party officials visited the Blue House on Friday in order to appeal to him in person.

"I will leave the party unless Mr. Kim retracts his resignation," a party official said in an executive party officials' meeting. "Why don't all of the executive party officials turn in letters of resignation to stop the president from resigning?" another official said. The president's announcement is probably the biggest shock in the party since the party was formed.

President Kim's significance to the party goes absolutely unquestioned. "Mr. Kim is like a father to the party," a party official said. The fate of the Millennium Democratic Party is unimaginable without President Kim. It is not an exaggeration to say that most lawmakers, except some from the mid-region, have been elected with Mr. Kim's help. The Millennium Democratic Party's lawmakers and heads of the party's provincial branches must be worrying about how they will fare in June's local election without Mr. Kim.

The ruling party needs to reconsider this situation, for the party is getting an opportunity to stand on its own. Additionally, the party can now do away with an image of being Mr. Kim's private party.

Most of all, the Millennium Democratic Party has reached a turning point that may help it break the political barrier created by the confrontation between anti-Kim Dae-jung and pro-Kim Dae-jung sentiments. The political division between anti-DJ and pro-DJ sentiments was a safety valve that guaranteed re-election of lawmakers from North and South Jeolla provinces, and some from the Seoul metropolitan region, but it also worked as a shackle that prevented the Millennium Democratic Party from becoming a majority party. As the political division took root, not only did the MDP's hope of expanding a power base in North and South Gyeongsang provinces disappeare, but also the party's influence and popularity in the metropolitan Seoul area began to decline due to the spread of anti-DJ sentiment. The ruling party's defeat in the Oct. 25 by-election bears this out.

If the division remains, therefore, there would be little chance for the Millennium Democratic Party to win the presidential election in December 2002. This has been proven in a series of opinion polls. If the ruling party succeeds in demolishing the political division between anti-Kim Dae-jung and pro-Kim Dae-jung sentiments, there is no reason for them to give up the hope of regaining the power in the coming election if only they manage to fare well with the people.

With President Kim's resignation, the Millennium Democratic Party is credited with another benefit. The ruling party can now shoulder fewer burdens as it breaks away from a tradition of the president of the country being the party's leader. The Millennium Democratic Party now can pay more attention to public opinion and spend more time refining policies instead of worrying about displeasing Mr. Kim. The ruling party's officials no longer need to keep quiet and they now have opportunities to criticize government mistakes and propose alternatives. If the party succeeds in doing these tasks, it will surely gain larger public support.

It is also a plus that the ruling party has earned enough time to prepare for when Mr. Kim resigns from the presidency. Regardless of partisanship, Korea's party politics has not seceded from authoritarian party rule in which heads of parties have absolute power. The Millennium Democratic Party can now introduce a new system that is more open for participation and also more democratic. Since the ruling party has set about doing this, it can scrutinize plans to aggressively implement political reforms. In the future, the Millennium Democratic Party is expected to have a difficult time. In the absence of support from the party leader, it is likely that the Millennium Democratic Party, the second largest party in the assembly, will be overwhelmed by the majority Grand National Party.

It would be a mistake if the Millennium Democratic Party entreats Mr. Kim to reverse his decision and attempt to depend on his influence. Even if it did, Mr. Kim's decision cannot be reversed, and it would not help the ruling party to show such weakness.


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

by Kim Gyo-joon

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