[Outlook]Primary debate

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[Outlook]Primary debate

When families and relatives get together for the Chuseok holiday that begins tomorrow, they will likely start talking about Shin Jeong-ah’s scandal and move on to party primaries that they participate in. The Grand National Party, which roughly half of the people support, has finished its party primary. The United New Democratic Party, which has the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, has started its regional party primaries.
Now is time for a mid-term evaluation of the party primary system in which the people took part. Was it legitimate to introduce a party primary? Are the methods of a party primary also legitimate? Does the process of a party primary move the people as was expected? Does a party primary make a contribution to party politics?
Korea’s party primary system is a copy of primary elections in the United States. In the United States, it has been only 35 years since primary election began to be properly carried out.
The reason why Korea’s politics introduced a party primary is embarrassingly simple. The Grand National Party wanted to soften its image as a conservative party.
The Uri Party, which was new then, adopted a party primary system because Roh Moo-hyun earned the party’s nomination by climbing from behind a step at a time, so the party believed the system helped him win the election.
Other parties follow in step because this was now the mainstream. This is quite different from the United States, where a primary election was adopted at the request of party supporters.
Thus, in Korea, a small number of people take part in party primaries. As the system was adopted in a hurried manner, it is not yet stable so at every step of the election, conflicts arise within a party.
In a primary election, parts of poll results are reflected, and this reveals a contradiction in the system. Politicians claim this is a way to reflect both a party’s stance and public opinion. But to ask ordinary citizens which contender should be nominated, when these people have not contributed to the party and in some cases are not even interested, shows that the party doesn’t even have the minimum capacity to nominate its own candidate.
Another argument goes that having to ask for public opinion shows that parties do not already reflect public opinion within their ranks, as is expected of them.
People say it is hard to imagine modern politics without political parties. If this is the case, will party primaries in which ordinary citizens take part enhance political parties? When party members share their right to choose their party’s candidate with ordinary citizens, is there any reason to become a registered party member? After preliminary elections were introduced in the United States, political parties became weak. As party members’ voices grow softer, the identity of a party tends to grow weak also.
A political party can maintain its identity consistently when it has not only has a motivation to assume power but also a motivation to present and implement policy. By reflecting public opinion in a party primary, the party does not acknowledge the limitations of public opinion and also overlooks its ideologies.
Both major parties ran into conflicts in their party primaries, and this explains why people abhor politics. Even when kids play football in an alley they set up rules before a match.
But political parties that aspire to assume power did not set up rules properly before the party primary. Presidential hopefuls threatened to quit and members of a party primary election committee didn’t seem to know what to do.
Once the presidential election ends, a majority of people have high expectations for the newly elected president and get behind him or her, regardless of whether they supported him or her during the campaign or not. Thus, presidents usually enjoy their highest approval ratings right after entering office. This is called the honeymoon effect.
After the election, the people generally want to resolve conflicts created during a campaign. However, it seems that it will be difficult for politicians to get over the side effects of the party primaries.
Lee Myung-bak earned the Grand National Party’s nomination but among the voters who voted for him, half chose him because they simply didn’t have a better choice, according to the Sept. 16 issue of the JoongAng Sunday.
The new party’s primary has started and all terms point to a corruptive election system. Some hopefuls who are dissatisfied with the unfairness of the primary might resign.
In short, party primaries disappoint the people and lead to conflict within political parties, instead of unification through fair competition. Ironically, the process of party primaries revealed problems in both parties.
In this sense, party primaries earn a D, a grade with which one barely passes.

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

by Lee Hyun-woo
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