[OUTLOOK]Is Uri truly governing?

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[OUTLOOK]Is Uri truly governing?

When the governing Uri Party was founded last year, after a laborious process, it promised to bring about a new political order.
When the party victoriously surmounted the presidential impeachment crisis and gained a large number of seats in parliament, it vowed to “show that it would be different.” One year and 10 months later, the governing party’s track record is unprecedented in that it saw its leadership change hands five times and suffered a sweeping defeat in elections and by-elections. What the frequent turnover in leadership reinforces is that the party lacks leadership, and its defeat in the elections means that many of the public have withdrawn their “expectations of the governing party.”
Even if we take into consideration the political rule of thumb that special elections are never advantageous for the governing party, the results reflect the governing party has lost the zero-sum game. What that loss means is that there was no real governing party functioning this year.
Perhaps that is why the Uri Party’s general meeting last weekend turned into a forum for denunciations. Many members who spoke up called for the party leaders to step down and some lawmakers sweepingly criticized the party’s actions.
One lawmaker went so far as to bitterly describe the party as “smart, but too brash.”
But if the past year and 10 months speak for anything, the Uri Party was not very smart, and it is not any smarter now as internal turmoil brews within.
If I were to delve further, maybe the problem for the Uri Party is that its lawmakers regarded the party as a channel to realize personal passions they had laboriously nurtured and kept alive over long years, or as a mechanism to integrate their own worldview into the power structure. Any group that resisted their passion or worldview needed to be dismantled or, were they to exercise mercy, needed to be enlightened. Such definitive delineation ― either you are with us or against us ― can work in civic and student movements but in the realm of real politics, heavy ideological orientations and an us-versus-them mentality are not conducive to a political party. When the desire of a party member to advance one’s personal view takes precedence, the party loses its ability to represent its constituents. And when opposing groups are regarded as barricades to be knocked over, the general will of the Uri Party becomes halved. We cannot help but ask Uri members whether they pledged to do away with such orientations when they moved into the realm of real politics, leaving civic and student movements behind.
In such a (political) community, though individuals may be smart, the community as a whole is not. If the governing party should argue partisanship is needed to some extent if reform is to proceed, it will be reduced to a minority party, where the two pillar functions of a political party, “representation” and “accountability,” will no longer uphold it.
A political party is like a litmus test paper, through which the will of its national constituents should come through. A governing party therefore should be more sensitive and to do that, the party should not be so much about “me, me, me.” It is worrisome that in the spreading turmoil within the Uri Party, I detect numerous egos crying out. Some legislators have called on like-minded factions to unite, while others have denounced the monopoly of the presidential office of the Blue House. The biggest threat for any political party is internal division and the most difficult division is when members are looking for culprits.
An internal division begins with party members attempting to put a distance between the party and the president, and then grows into an all-out fight for stakes. This, sadly, is the biggest weakness of a single-term presidency. The outcome of it all will be a weakening of governance, a sign the governing party has come a far distance from the community it is supposed to represent and be held accountable to.
Unless the party members rein themselves in and shift to embrace their roles as representatives, the internal division and power struggle that accompanies any crisis will not end, and any poor relief pitcher that comes to help will end up the culprit.
The reason the year 2005 saw no functioning governing party is because it was busy representing “me” instead of its constituents.
Where was the governing Uri Party when the Blue House was initiating policies?
Wasn’t the Uri Party ready to sign onto any real-estate policy the Blue House proposed?
The party was also absent when the president proposed a grand coalition with the opposition, and again when Representative Kang Ki-gap of the Democratic Labor Party, with his traditional Korean robe flying, was busy opposing negotiations for the further opening of the Korean rice market. The Uri Party had no compromise plan with which to persuade the nation’s rice farmers.
And what exactly is the Uri Party’s agenda for this year’s regular National Assembly? I am not talking about hundreds of micro-policies that smart individual lawmakers come up with, but a grand governing party vision to take South Korea to the next level of growth and development. Does the Uri Party even have a weather vane that can help them decipher public sentiment? Representative Rhyu Simin of the Uri Party is a man known for his invective and blistering criticism. But for the first time in a long while, I find his assessment of the Uri Party, coming right to my heart. “The party has done nothing in the past seven months; its chart for governance remains blank,” Rhyu has said. Perhaps that’s why I see no governing party that people can rely on, in our market, educational environment, on the export front, on the floor, on the farms or in households.

* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Song Ho-keun

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