[VIEWPOINT]GNP wild card in Roh’s successRoh Moo-hyun’s success as president will depend as much on the opposition Grand National Party as on the president himself, his cabinet and the Millennium Democratic Party. The Grand Nationals are still the majority party of the National Assembly. It has passed an act to create a special prosecution team to investigate the furtive fund transfers to North Korea, despite avid protests from the Millennium Democrats.
Politics is a game played between opposite sides and Mr. Roh might soon find out that his success as president could depend on how the opposite side plays. Will the Roh administration opt to play safe with policies appealing to the moderate majority of the people or adopt the idealist adventurism it has signaled, which has made a considerable number of people nervous?
The answer could very well depend on what line the Grand National Party chooses. Should the opposition party choose to tone down its conservative image and turn to represent the middle-of-the-roaders that form the majority of society, the Roh government would be compelled to seek support among these same people for the next general elections.
If, however, the Grand National Party chooses to maintain a far more conservative or even reactionary voice than the majority of the public, the Roh administration might find it tempting to proceed with its adventurism, assured of not losing moderate voters to the opposition.
Respect for procedural democracy and a yielding of power had never been favorites with the former governments. Will the Roh government follow in the footsteps of its predecessors and corrupt itself with its own power in the end or will it choose to share authority evenly with its political opponents? Or will it create a radical government that could alienate the majority of the public?
The answer to these questions also depends in great part on the Grand National Party and its cohorts. If the party comprises people that have the trust and affection of the public, then the Roh administration will have to keep its promise to rely on conversation and compromise in pursuing reforms. Likewise, an opposition party formed mostly of shady figures under allegations of corruption or with a history of cracking down on the democratization movement in the 1980s would tempt the government to draw its sword to win the praise of the people and to appoint anti-establishment figures to prove its moral superiority.
In the end, it could even be said that the success or failure of the Roh Moo-hyun government depends on the Grand National Party. For the present, the future for the opposition party looks bleak. It is not that the party does not realize that it must cast off its ultra-conservative appearance and turn to more moderate lines. Yet with its blueprint for reform, which leaves the vested rights of the party chapter leaders untouched, the Grand National Party will not see many of its candidates, with the exception of those running in the conservative Yeongnam, or southeastern region, make it past the first round of the election.
Here lies the paradox for the Grand National Party: The ultra-conservative Yeongnam candidates are casting a highly negative image of the party, but the candidates from districts in Seoul and its vicinity are paying the price for it. And here lies the tragedy of Korean democracy: Once more, the government, dealing with the minority ultra-conservative opposition, can enjoy arrogance of power.
To spare everyone from such a development, the Grand National Party should dismantle district chapter leadership and adopt free competition to select its candidates. The Grand Nationals should give the voters who backed them a chance to change the party into a more wholesome organization. It should be emphasized that a shift in generations among the Yeongnam candidates would also fortify the position of the candidates in the Seoul area.
The voters in the Yeongnam region who have always been faithful to the Grand National Party should be given a chance to revive the party as they see fit. The party should consider deeply why people are still hesitant to choose it as their alternative when so many are dissatisfied with the way the Kim Dae-jung government handled North Korea and the Roh Moo-hyun government is handling the United States.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Kyung Hee University.
by Kim Meen-geon