[VIEWPOINT]A victory for party, not politicsThe local elections are finally over. The governing party recorded its worst defeat ever, with the voter turnout rate rebounding for the first time since its consecutive decline after democratization.
The most significant thing about the election is that it has made President Roh Moo-hyun into a lame duck. The Roh era, which was born energetically in the primary election held in Gwangju in spring 2002, has now entered its twilight years.
Now, we stand at a starting point where we have to review our recent past, including the Roh adminstration, which will come to its end at the end of next year.
Some political groups are rushing to interpret the election results in a way that looks like a political ploy, saying Korean politics is about to return to conservatism.
The diagnosis that the bubble of progressivism, which has held power for the past 10 years, has burst and that voters have turned their backs on progressives to face conservatives is wrong.
First of all, the landslide victory of the Grand National Party, mainly the large number of local government heads that the party won in the election ― 12 metropolitan government heads out of 16 up for vote and all of the 25 district heads in Seoul ― merely creates an optical illusion.
In our simple majority election system which elects only one winner, the election results are apt to be exaggerated, as if the winner has overwhelmed the race. Also, the support of the middle class, which tends to watch politics with a cool head, was given to the Grand National Party in the last elections temporarily, not permanently.
Although people’s disappointment and frustration with the Roh administration has led them into the arms of the opposition, the middle class has not yet denied the political potential of progressivism as a whole.
Between the conservatives who have won a landslide victory and the progressives who have been defeated, there is no big gap in ultimate potential.
In the damning political climate created by the attack on Park Geun-hye, the chairwoman of the Grand National Party, the Uri Party still gained about 30 percent in almost all the district elections.
Ultimately, the competitiveness of both conservative and progressive camps at the presidential election next year will be decided by their reform efforts, essentially defined as the competition to reform politics so that it deals more with the people’s livelihood.
The most important task of the governing party is to come down from the altar of ideology and get closer to the lives of ordinary people.
In the past years, grand slogans and assertions were gushed out breathlessly in the name of democratization, reform and peace. But such ideological slogans failed to bring changes that improved the lives of ordinary people.
Instead, people’s lives became even harder and they felt oppressed. An even more serious problem was the fact that the ideologies and slogans of progressivism were echoed only by those in high positions ― they were never heard in the places where ordinary people live.
Being possessed with the illusion that politics and ideology can lead people and society, the progressives neglected to pay attention to the livelihoods of ordinary people.
But the future of the Grand National Party, which is in a celebratory mood, might not be that smooth, either.
The task ahead of the Grand Nationals is the dilemma that the personal capability of its leaders overwhelms the party.
The party chairwoman, Park Geun-hye, demonstrated her power to draw people around her and appeal to the hearts of the people, but the party failed to demonstrate its capacity to persuade people with its own ideology.
Still, the Grand National Party has yet to convince middle-class voters how the conservative ideology and policies can fill up the gaps, whether they be social or economic, educational or even in hope.
Furthermore, the party has not yet fully developed the merits of conservatism.
Politics and ideology are not complete. Therefore, the fundamentals of conservative politics that should be practiced discreetly and in a humble manner are not yet deeply rooted in the Grand National Party. Like a soccer team that keeps a balance between individual player’s skills and the team’s basic physical strength, the opposition party can be a strong political party when it combines the personal merit of the leaders with the fundamental strength of conservatism.
After all, the competition that succeeds the 10 years under progressive governments and 20 years of democratization will be a fierce one, between progressives who indulge in excessive ideologies and conservatives who lack a concrete ideology.
The competition must start from the point where the focus of politics moves from ideology to the real world of people’s lives.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jaung Hoon