[Outlook]A liberal game plan

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[Outlook]A liberal game plan

The presidential election may be about 50 days away, but next month is important in determining the result. One of the main topics of discussion is whether the ruling United New Democratic Party will produce a single candidate. Chung Dong-young, Moon Kook-hyun and Lee In-je all trail far behind the Grand National Party’s Lee Myung-bak at the polls. Logic says that two of them should drop out to increase the remaining candidate’s voter base. Some say this is the party’s only hope.
However, will this really be effective? It is unlikely, at least for the moment, as recent polls show. The three candidates’ approval ratings combined is only half the rate of Lee Myung-bak. In a recent poll conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo, Chung had 16.2 percent support, Moon 6.7 percent and Lee In-je 3.3 percent. The three candidates held 26.2 percent in total, whereas Lee Myung-bak by himself had 55 percent support.
Ten percent support in a poll could translate into 2.5 million votes in the real election, if the turnout rate is similar to that seen in the last election. By this logic, even if the three UNDP candidates combined into one, he would lose the election by 5 to 7 million votes. In the two previous presidential elections, the runners-up lost by a margin of 570,000 votes in the 16th election and a margin of 390,000 votes in the 17th.
Thus, the estimated margin between the candidates in the upcoming election is huge. Even if choosing a single candidate produces synergy in the UNDP, it will hardly be enough to beat Lee Myung-bak.
The same tactic worked in the 2002 election. The approval rates for Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon hovered over the 20-percent level respectively. The approval rate for Lee Hoi-chang, the leading contender, stood below 40 percent. If you could do simple math, you easily knew that producing only one contender out of Roh and Chung against Lee was a sure ticket to a win. The situation is similar this time. If you simply count, you can see that choosing one UNDP candidate could not propel him win the election.
There is another reason why such a tactic won’t work. Except for a common desire to stop Lee Myung-bak from winning, these three candidates share nothing. They have different political convictions, ideologies and policies.
Moon Kook-hyun even refuses to be called a member of the ruling party’s circle. Lee In-je’s policies are certainly different from those of the two progressive figures. They don’t even include Kwon Young-ghil, the Democratic Labor Party’s candidate, in the single-candidate discussions.
They cannot win voters’ hearts by merely opposing a certain candidate. If the progressives choose one candidate among themselves but have nothing else in common, the result will be nothing but an act of collusion driven by a blind goal to win the election.
The driving force is weaker than before. Five years ago, then-President Kim Dae-jung supported such a move. He still demands it, but now he is merely the former president. Roh Moo-hyun, the incumbent president, is not very active about advocating a single candidate. Each candidate’s camp lacks the power to push the move forward. They have to think about the next general election. If they give up in the presidential election and are absorbed by those who support the final candidate, a lot of the candidates’ constituents will lose a chance to run in the general election.
Therefore, producing a single candidate will not be a sound solution. It will not change the direction of the election. Instead, these candidates need to expand their appeal, boost their competitiveness and give the voters more options.
According to recent polls, the voters think economic development is the most important issue in this presidential election. In a poll conducted by the Hankuk Ilbo around 10 days ago, 53.8 percent of the respondents ranked this issue as a top priority. Social equality turned out to be second, cited by 11.8 percent of the respondents. There is a wide gap between the first and second-most important issues. The result stems from distrust of the incumbent government. The people think that the left-wing figures of the government have failed to run the country with a sense of responsibility. If they were a company, they would be working labor union members rather than executive officers who earned money and expanded their business. Although a labor union is necessary, a company cannot be left in the hands of a labor union alone.
That is why the drive to replace the incumbent government is gaining support from the public. This is also why the ruling circle’s negative campaign is not working. The people in the ruling circle say they are democratic forces who have ethical values and pursue peace and reform, while they condemn their rival conservatives’ corruption, which they say stems from the despotic rule of the Cold War era. The people are fed up with the arrogance and brazen attitudes of those in the ruling party’s circle.
Those in the ruling circle must admit their wrongdoings and suggest measures to fix them. They must reassure the people. They need to suggest measures for the fair distribution of wealth that will not hinder growth and a North Korea policy for reconciliation that will not jeopardize national security. They need to present productive measures for the future in order to draw former supporters back to them and to win the hearts of swing voters.
To the ruling party: Even when in a hurry, sometimes the longest path is the right way around.

The writer is the senior political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Gyo-joon
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