[OUTLOOK]Parties must listen to the peopleLast week’s local elections labeled the Uri Party as an arrogant and incompetent group. The party called itself a reform force when it was founded. The results of these elections have taught a lesson for the history of party politics in Korea.
The lesson has become even clearer now as Uri Party members disagree with President Roh Moo-hyun’s remark that downplayed the meaning of the defeat in the local elections.
The local elections can be interpreted as a punishment for the Uri Party. The party had said it would humbly accept the people’s will each time it lost in previous re-elections and by-elections, but then behaved contrary to such words.
From a long-term perspective, the May 31 local elections can be said to have established the framework of party politics, regardless of a party’s victory or defeat. There are four reasons to believe so.
First, these elections showed that a party’s nomination should take place through a democratic procedure in order to win voters’ support. A party has virtually unlimited power when appointing candidates. However, when the party overuses such power it fails to gain the people’s support.
For the races for 16 major city and provincial governors, the Grand National Party chose all its candidates through primary elections, while the Uri Party had only three primary elections.
Therefore, these elections can be summarized as a fight between two parties.
One party firmly established the primary election system and played by the rules without exception, while the other party held a limited number of primary elections even though it had introduced the same system. Voters chose the party that abided by the rules, despite its flaws. This established an environment in which objection to the results of the primary elections can no longer be made.
Secondly, there is no future for a party that does not care about the silence of the majority of the people. Ever since the 17th National Assembly elections, people who knew the intention of powerful leaders have misled public opinion in a certain direction they had fixed in advance whenever urgent issues have come up. Others have professed to be advocates of the masses so that the majority of the people could do nothing but remain silent.
As the public were scared by these overeager people and could not argue with them, the Uri Party believed it had won over citizens and stuck to their original policies. This only resulted in their crushing defeat in these recent elections.
It has turned out that these activists were a small number of people with loud voices. Most people would not want to leave the nation’s future to such a party.
Next, a party that is based on arbitrary factions that it has deliberately created, not on existing conventional differences in regions, ideologies or social stratifications, cannot take root deep within people’s hearts.
From the very start, the Uri Party has not tried to embrace the people but instead divided them by its preferences. On top of that, only a small number of core figures have led the party and tried to preach to the public in a didactic manner. This practice can be found only in a communist party that aims for a proletariat revolution. This is why Koreans have turned away from the Uri Party.
Despite good intentions, the party has been creating factions for the sake of reform, democracy and peace. Thus, even people who once backed the party have broken away and the party has become a minor party.
The Grand National Party has no reason to be indulgent in victory either, because it only made a reflective gain.
Lastly, through these elections, the people have sent a serious warning. That is, whether a governing or opposition party, if a party tries to conduct political reform in a bid to avoid crisis without serious consideration of its mistakes and wrongdoings, the voters will punish such a party.
When the people shared the same goal for democratization, they cast their votes for candidates who followed Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam or Kim Jong-pil, no matter how loose a relationship the candidates might have had with such leaders.
However, as most people now believe the nation is democratized to a considerable extent, they will not blindly vote for a party just because it has a connection with a certain politician.
This is partly because there is nobody now with the charisma the three Kims had. We can see this clearly when looking at the Uri Party, which carried out political reforms in an arbitrary way and has now been placed in jeopardy. In this regard, we can say there is no bright future for any new party that is formed with certain members as core figures.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyungnam University.
by Sim Ji-yeon