[OUTLOOK]Uri’s ‘mainstay’ may be outdated

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[OUTLOOK]Uri’s ‘mainstay’ may be outdated

While problems are not limited to only one party, the recent controversies over paying dues by proxy or membership forgery cases allow us to think about what it means to be a political party.
These days, a political party is not made up of the members who join the party and pay dues voluntarily but is artificially manufactured by forming extensive human networks around a few politicians with ambition and influence, just like the political parties under the authoritarian regimes.
The Uri Party sticks fast to the “mainstay” membership system, which gives the right to nominate and vote to select the candidates for public positions to those members who have paid dues for more than six months. The system, with more adverse effects than positive functions, has only made matters worse. In the early days of the Uri Party, the system certainly encouraged the members to participate enthusiastically and make financial contributions. But as the local election is approaching, it is a fact that the system is having negative effects.
First, as the “mainstay” members exercise the power to nominate candidates, they form the first barrier to entry into office, and they have, in turn, turned into a means of power struggle within the party. Therefore, politicians who aspire to run for public positions need to have as many “mainstay” members on their side, and they manipulate all possible means for this purpose. A politician goes to any lengths to mass-produce “mainstay” members by urging people to join the party, paying the fees for them, enrolling people without asking them and even registering people who do not live in the district.
But a bigger problem is that there has never been a discussion on whether the “mainstay” membership, on the premise of a mass party model, is appropriate for Korean reality. In the industrialization period in Korea, workers invented the concept of a mass party, which is based on membership enrollment and regular party dues payments, in order to defend their rights and interests, and a mass party was very ideology-oriented. Its goal was to realize an egalitarian society through socialization of the means of production.
Because of such structural characteristics, the Uri Party has directed all its energies to pass four measures: the revisions of the private school law, repeal of the national security law, the laws on media and the history re-examination law.
Yet, unlike the 17th National Assembly election, which was held amid candlelight vigils, the past two by-elections have proven that an excess of ideology does not conform to the general public’s sentiment. The Uri Party could not avoid crushing defeats because a growing number of voters wanted to keep their distance from ideology-oriented parties, and as a result, the clout of the ruling party has been static, if not dwindling.
Moreover, industrialization and post-industrialization are in progress simultaneously in Korea, so following the political party model from the industrialization period, when the interests of the workers converged, is not appropriate in today’s reality. In addition, there exists the Democratic Labor Party, a mass party in the true sense, actively representing the interests of the workers. Therefore, the Uri Party needs to realize that it has a fundamental limit as it competes with the Democratic Labor Party over ideology and tries to mobilize the support of the workers.
It is about time the Uri Party discusses whether to stick with the “mainstay” party membership system and let those members exercise exclusive nomination rights, or to give all voters supporting the party the right to participate in the primary election to select candidates for general elections.
It needs to contemplate seriously whether ideology-oriented exclusiveness or pragmatic openness is more desirable for the party.
Despite the crisis, none of the nine candidates running for the party chairmanship has displayed his intention to tackle the matter.
Without a single mention of what kind of political party model the Uri Party is based on, and whether it is appropriate today, they talk about a rosy future or find faults with other parties ― when most of the citizens fear that the party chairman might be elected by “ghost” party members.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Shim Ji-yeon
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