[OUTLOOK]Names change, the truth does notSomething is in the state of Korea. The country’s number one party, with 47 percent of the National Assembly seats, has announced that it will close down of its own accord. This party also happens to be the governing party. After its humiliating defeat in the local elections held in May, the governing Uri Party assigned Chairman Kim Geun-tae the task of trying to salvage something from the ruins. The party, however, suffered yet another crushing defeat in the special elections last week and Mr. Kim has officially announced that he will give up the reins of Uri Party and pursue a “grand union of forces upholding peace.”
Mr. Kim is a potential presidential candidate for next year’s election. Yet he is willingly giving up an advantage in numbers over the Democratic Party and former Prime Minister Goh Kun, another presidential hopeful. All things considered, Mr. Kim must have felt quite a desperate necessity.
If the governing party is in such dire straits that its chairman must abandon ship, then a seismic shift in political alignments seems unavoidable. Who will be affected adversely by this political regrouping and who will benefit? Of course there will be a few politicians who will remain loyal to President Roh Moo-hyun, the Uri Party and political forces classified as “progressive.” However, the majority of the Uri Party’s members will probably be most concerned with raising their chances of getting re-elected in the next National Assembly elections and in order to win, they will be willing to remove the Uri Party label.
This seems all the more probable when one considers the political agenda ahead. There is the presidential election in December 2007 and the inauguration of a new president in February 2008. Then in April 2008, there will be the general election. In the first two months of the presidential term, the president’s popularity rate usually remains above 90% and that will surely have an effect on the general election. The public’s view is that one must support the new president’s party and with the fresh president’s popularity riding high, the government party could easily win a majority of the seats. This is a key reason that explains why so many Uri Party members are willing to desert their party and even join hands with the Democratic Party, which they previously deserted.
In some way, one feels sorry for the Uri Party politicians. After all, they are giving their all to stay alive in the game of politics. However, that does not change the fact that they are being cowardly. The planned political realignment is without any value and only makes our political system regress. The majority of the Uri Party members are pinning their hopes on a scenario in which the Uri Party joins hands with the Democratic Party and supports Goh Kun. They are calling for a reunion with the Democratic Party using different names, but Chairman Kim Geun-tae, former Chairman Chung Dong-young and Advisor Chung Dae-chul of the Uri Party are all aiming for the same thing: “Another 2002,” the repetition of their victory in the 2002 presidential election. The same goes for Hahn Hwa-kap, the head of the Democratic Party and Mr. Goh himself. In the end, all their fancy words are just an attempt to recover their political support base in the Honam region.
Such maneuvers are not only cowardly, but abuse public trust. Elections are the public’s chance to judge the past and to express their expectations for the future. The governing party, which is responsible for today’s administration, is trying to avoid the people’s judgment by realigning itself with other parties. If a party has done well during its governing term, it deserves to get re-elected, and if it hadn’t done well, it should be willing to be punished by the people and become the opposition party. To change its name as governing party and to camouflage its political colors to fool the public is, to put it simply, against the spirit of democracy.
The Uri Party was founded to break away from regionalism and old political practices. Yet what has it done to achieve this goal? It has only encouraged division among the public and done nothing for the comfort and prosperity of the people. The public is no longer fooled by the Uri Party blaming everything on the Grand National Party or the Yeongnam region. It is also sick of hearing about but not seeing any “new politics.” It is too late now for the Uri Party to draw public empathy with its campaign for holding an open primary race. Instead of trying to persuade former President Kim Dae-jung to join its side in hopes of gaining votes from the Honam region, the Uri Party should spend its remaining one year acting as a proper governing party should. That is its only way to survive, not by shallow political maneuvers such as realigning parties.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo