[VIEWPOINT]Remodeling Uri Party won’t fix itIn 1995, Kim Dae-jung created a new party, the National Congress for New Politics, as soon as he resumed political activities. In 2000, President Kim Dae-jung broke up the National Congress for New Politics to establish another party, the Millennium Democratic Party. In 2003, President Roh Moo-hyun bolted from the Millennium Democratic Party and established the Uri Party.
In that case, what will be the name of the party that will succeed this lineage and compete against the opposition Grand National Party in next year’s presidential election? Perhaps it will have a long name, such as “the party for regional harmony, democratic and peaceful reform, and a new start.”
Whenever the presidential election comes around the corner, parties discard their old names and start again with new ones. Although the Uri Party is the governing party, with 141 incumbent lawmakers, and the current president hails from it, it is nowadays noisy with arguments over whether to create a new party, remodel the old one or return to a regional party based on support from the Honam area, or the Jeolla provinces.
Of course, I can understand the party’s desperate situation. Its approval rating hovers around 10 percent and it has no presidential hopeful who receives support from more than 10 percent of the voters. That obliges the party to change its name and begin again. I can overlook the pitiful scene of their internal fistfights while they disregard external crises, because the reason for the political parties’ existence lies in holding power.
However, the argument that the party should break up and establish a new one requires the governing party to overcome a minimum of three problems: its lack of senses of shame, responsibility and reality.
The first problem is the sense of shame. The big talk that they established a grand party that would last 100 years and would be able to hold power for 20 years has disappeared, and the Uri Party is now trying hard just to court support from Honam voters. The bold plan that it will create a party not based on regional support is lost, and now they plan to create a new party by embracing the Honam area again. Such a plan does not fit the common sense or sense of shame that ordinary people have.
One unexpected problem that appears in the course of courting the support of Honam voters is that it further twists the readjustment of the Sunshine Policy toward North Korea. As if the Honam citizens are the unconditional supporters of the Sunshine Policy, the Uri Party is exerting all of its energy on “saving the Sunshine Policy.”
But it is not appropriate to equate Honam citizens, who played a big role in the course of democratization, with the unconditional supporters of the Sunshine Policy.
Like a majority of the citizens, Honam people may also take a discreet attitude toward the Sunshine Policy and have agonized over the prospects of the policy since North Korea’s test of a nuclear bomb.
Regional harmony will again be the main topic of the presidential election next year, but we cannot achieve harmony if our politics returns to Honam regionalism and the unconditional support of the Sunshine Policy.
The second problem is the sense of responsibility. In the debate on the remodeling of the current governing party, we cannot find a trace of self-reflection on the party’s responsibility in the past four years. Unlike the governing parties of the past, the Uri Party was a governing party in the era of decentralization that enjoyed the right to be free from and to cooperate with the president. Therefore, the merits and demerits of the past four years are the joint responsibility of both the president and the governing party. The current scene of excluding President Roh and reuniting the democratic and peaceful reform forces again is nothing but the tactic of a lizard cutting its own tail.
The previous governing parties have shown an attitude of cutting the relations with, differentiating themselves from and even criticizing lame-duck presidents, considering them to be political burdens when the next presidential elections approached.
The Uri Party talks about a new start nowadays, but to become a genuine new party, honest and brave self-reflection on its past should occur first.
The third problem is the sense of reality. The slogan that the party hangs out for its rebirth is the concentration of the reform forces for democracy and peace. But this slogan is nothing but a replay of old pop songs. What the majority of people now want is not democracy itself, but rather the efficient administration of a democratic system. What we need now is the ability to keep peace rather than the will to keep peace.
This is the time that we need politics that take care of people’s livelihoods, rather than mere reform. When the Uri Party overcomes the above three deficiencies, it will be able to be reborn in a proper manner, going beyond the remodeling of changing its signboard only.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jaung Hoon