[OUTLOOK]Here comes the radical leftBecause the political storm ignited by the impeachment bill and its aftermath have subsided considerably, the attention of the politicians and the media is now focused on the drastic changes in popularity of political parties and forecasts for the National Assembly election on April 15.
After experiencing a nosedive in popularity amid the national crisis, opposition parties are making belated efforts to attract popular support by changing their leadership. Our Open Party is enjoying a windfall from the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun, and is conjuring strategies to make sure the newly earned popularity is translated into votes in the election. The impeachment has become a deciding factor for the voters’ choice of support for a political party.
It is inevitable that whether a candidate is for or against the impeachment will be a major issue, but such simplification and emphasis on the impeachment would overshadow other important issues in the general election.
Overlooked in the middle of the political confrontation over the impeachment is the probable entry of the Democratic Labor Party into the National Assembly and the consequent influence on the country’s parliamentary politics.
If the Democratic Labor Party gains some seats in the Assembly in the election, it will be the first truly liberal party to join the political establishment in five decades, since the Jinbo Party under the leadership of Cho Bong-am. The Democratic Labor Party is expected to write a new chapter in the political history of Korea.
The party’s strides have been sensed in local elections and the presidential election. It also helped that the voters grew increasingly distrustful of the existing political parties. But what really would make the party’s entry possible is the new system of proportional representation to be introduced in the National Assembly. Each voter will cast two votes, one for a candidate and the other for a party of his choice, and each party will be allotted a certain number of seats depending on the votes they win nationwide. The Democratic Labor Party won about 5 percent of the support in the latest opinion polls. If the party can maintain that popularity until the election, it would be able to win at least four and as many as eight seats in the Assembly as proportional representatives.
Also, the party is likely to win one or two seats in the Changwon or Ulsan constituencies. Its supporters hope that the party could emerge as the second-largest opposition party after the elections.
Of course the Democratic Labor Party would be merely a minority political party in terms of overall representation in the National Assembly even if it pulled off a miraculous success at the election. But the party’s entry into the National Assembly would be significant because the presence of a liberal party in the assembly would exert a great influence on the political culture.
Most of all, the Democratic Labor Party’s entry would mean the end of the ideological inclination towards conservative forces. At the same time, the party would serve as a standing representation in the Assembly for the workers, farmers and lower- and middle-class citizens, whose interests have been neglected in the Assembly.
The emergence of the liberal party would call forth significant changes in the existing manner of discussion and the rules of the game in parliamentary politics. The lawmakers of the Democratic Labor Party would have clearly different policy preferences, and their voices would create an unprecedented confrontation and argument along policy lines. The party might provide new challenges to the existing conservative parties.
But hopefully, the challenges could act as catalyst for the existing parties to reinvent themselves as healthy conservatives by reinforcing their vague ideological identity and differentiating their policy agenda.
The party’s members are notably sincere and enthusiastic, and the party is well known for its democratic structure. The emergence of the Democratic Labor Party could be a stimulus for internal democratization of the existing parties.
Naturally, critics are worried that the entry of the radical party into the National Assembly would only encourage the ideological divide as the left raises its voice. Another concern is that the increasing tension from the ideological fight would only make the Assembly drift. But since the chances for the Democratic Labor Party to grow strong enough to threaten the exiting conservative parties is slim for now, the concerns sound a bit exaggerated.
In fact, the rise of the Democratic Labor Party could help ease tension and accelerate social integration in the sense that existing class and ideological discords would be introduced into established politics. Thanks to the entry of the liberal Democratic Labor Party, the 17th National Assembly could have a chance to contribute to the leap of the country’s parliamentary politics, that now lacks an experimental spirit.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Nae-young