[FOUNTAIN]Two big guys and a few ‘half-parties’

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[FOUNTAIN]Two big guys and a few ‘half-parties’

Political scientists studying political parties are always concerned about the number of parties in a country. The number often tells how power is distributed.
Traditionally, the Western world categorizes party politics into one-party, two-party, and multiparty systems. But in countries with a relatively short history of democracy, that classification might not work. These fledgling democracies often have a unique “1.5-party system.”
When the Japanese conservatives united under the banner of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955, the Socialist Party, which stood on the other end of the political spectrum, confronted it by integrating the opposition parties. At the time, the number of seats the Socialists held in the Diet was exactly half that of the Liberal Democratic Party. Since then, the system of a dominant ruling party and a weak opposition party has been called a “1.5-party system.”
In Korea, the expression was often used during the authoritarian military regimes. But Japan had a democratic political system while Korea was under despotic rule. So our 1.5-party system was not the same.
In the early days of Chun Doo Hwan, the Democratic Korea Party proclaimed in its party platform that it was proud to be the only opposition party in Korea.
As a political party, it did not want to take over power but declared that it would serve as an opposition party from the beginning. It set out not as a whole, but as a half, party.
Giovanni Sartori, an authority on party systems, proposed a more detailed topology of party systems. In a hegemonic party system, the ruling party has unchallenged despotic rule and there is little chance of changing the regime. But the dominant party system allows free competition. The authoritarian regimes in Korea would be hegemonic party systems, while the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party was a dominant party.
In last week’s National Assembly election, four political parties obtained fewer than ten seats each. One of them calls itself the third party in the Assembly. In terms of the number of lawmakers, it might be right. But could the minor parties have the same clout as Our Open Party and the Grand National Party? This looks like two parties and another half; let’s see how this “2.5-party system” performs.


by Nahm Yoon-ho

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