[INSIGHT]In a word, the party is cowardly

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[INSIGHT]In a word, the party is cowardly

A political party should state its opinions on current national issues and work toward its goals based on those opinions. If a political party, which has political power as a goal, doesn’t offer any opinions and waits to see how the wind blows, it has no qualifications to lead a nation.
Seeing the Grand National Party these days, one often wonders whether it has any opinions on important current issues at all. What is the party’s position on the dispatch of troops to Iraq, which could be called the most important issue our country is facing right now? Does it agree to the dispatch or oppose it? If it supports the dispatch, does it call for combat or non-combat troops? Does it want 5,000 soldiers or 3,000 soldiers sent? We have yet to hear what the Grand National Party’s intentions are concerning these issues about the dispatch. All it has done so far is that Chairman Choe Byung-yul has announced that the party would decide its position after the government decides on the details of the dispatch.
Is it normal for the biggest party in the legislature to have no opinions or position on the biggest issue at the moment? The decision over the dispatch is creating strife within Korean society and causing tension between Korea and the United States.
The government announced that it had told U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of its position during his recent visit to Seoul, but the United States has said that it would wait for the final announcement. Our government claims that the United States had expressed its gratitude for our decision but U.S. government officials have said that non-combat troops would only be a burden to the United States. We often hear of tension between those in the government advocating close ties with the United States and those demanding more independence in our relations with our biggest ally.
The public has no way of knowing what the government told Mr. Rumsfeld and what the final decision will be. Even with the increasing confusion, conflict and uncertainty over the dispatch and the difference of opinions with the United States, our majority party is sitting on the sidelines doing nothing.
It is obvious what the Grand National Party is thinking. It supports the dispatch but it knows that there is strong opposition among the public. There are many in the party who support sending combat troops but this is also unpopular, and there is the fear of provoking a terror attack on Korea. Any hasty declarations and the Grand Nationals know that they would lose votes. That is why the party is without any thoughts or policies on our biggest current issue.
To put it bluntly, they are cowards. If the party has a sense of what is in our national interest, it would be willing to bear a drop in its popularity to pursue what it sees as our national interest. That is how the party could establish its identity and win the trust of the people.
The dispatch isn’t the only issue on which the Grand National Party is showing a cowardly attitude. For example, what is the party’s position on the issue of building a nuclear waste facility in Buan and the residents’ fierce opposition to the plan? Does it support or oppose the building of the nuclear waste facility in Buan? What decision does it see as necessary for our national interest? To my recollection, the Grand National Party has never given an opinion on this issue. Violent street rallies by the Buan residents, by farmers and by laborers have become a serious social issue, but they have never been discussed at the party’s executive meetings. The party should, but is unwilling, to send a clear message that violent street rallies would not be tolerated. This unwillingness, of course, comes from the fear of losing votes.
The same goes for the other important issues such as moving the administrative capital city and the ratification of the free trade agreement with Chile. It is hard to tell where the Grand National Party stands on these issues. Since last year’s presidential election, the party had officially been opposed to the moving of the administrative capital. There had been no announcements that it had changed its mind but these days the Grand National Party seems to have slunk over to lending support. This is because if it openly opposed the idea, it would lose the votes of the residents of the Chungcheong provinces where the new city is to be established. This lack of any established party line also comes from the fact that party members from different regions of the country have yet to reach an agreement on the issue.
The Grand National Party is also keeping consciously silent about the Chile free trade agreement. Many party members say that the National Assembly should ratify the agreement without delay. But the members hailing from agricultural regions insist on pro-farmer policies and thus the party has yet to reach a consensus on the issue. The party seems to know that the agreement must be ratified for the sake of our national interest, yet are hesitant to say so for fear of losing the votes of farmers.
Such is the attitude of the Grand National Party on these national issues, without any backbone and without any sound judgment of what really is our national interest. Because it has no opinions of its own, the party fails to act as a political force to check and balance the administration.
All it does is try to find fault with any plan that the administration comes up with. It is less than honorable for the Grand National Party to declare a political war should the president exercise his right to veto a bill demanding a special counsel to investigate allegations of corruption surrounding the president’s former aides. This looks like a desperate attempt to survive in a political situation that is favorable to neither side.
A party that isn’t willing to risk partial and temporary unpopularity for the sake of pursing the national interest has no future.
The opportunity to seize power never goes to cowards.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok
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