[Viewpoint]Backward democracyDemocracy doesn’t develop step by step. In the 1960s, when emerging countries started to become democracies, Samuel Huntington, a professor at Harvard University, made this cold remark, putting a chill on an overly optimistic atmosphere.
Looking at the moves of Korea’s political parties before the legislative elections, democracy seems to repeatedly develop and retreat, following a complicated track.
Through last year’s presidential election, Korea’s politics had evolved only to version 2.0.
Today, however, the state of party politics here is moving backward. The political parties, the locomotives of democracy, are going back in time.
The first problem is the return of competition between political factions. During the selection process for Grand National Party candidates for the National Assembly, there has been no place for party members or voters. There has only been a fierce battle between the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye camps.
How many of Lee’s people got nominated by the party today? How many of Park’s people will survive tomorrow? This is the game being played by the GNP selection committee.
One of the party’s laws is that it must produce its candidates for office in a democratic way.
The fact that the party primaries have been replaced by battles between competing factions is a major retreat.
For the 2004 legislative elections, an open primary was held once, but abandoned. Now, a nomination screening committee, formed by the party leaders, controls the process.
Proponents of the competition between factions will cite the problems revealed in the primaries as the reasons for this backward move. A lack of decent party members, illegal electioneering and an increase of illegal political funds will also be mentioned as reasons.
When democracy weakens, politics between factions appear and a variety of problems are introduced. When the factions become powerful these days, party members and voters are left out.
When factions compete against each other behind closed doors, the visions and policies for a new era disappear. As former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson warned some 200 years ago, factions can do nothing for the public good.
Another factor that drags party politics backward is the learning disorder that the United Democratic Party seems to have.
For a political party to stay alive, it needs to constantly learn from changes in society. The crushing defeat in the last presidential election was a good chance for the UDP to absorb new lessons. The result clearly showed them what the voters and citizens want from the progressive forces.
However, the UDP nomination process shows that the party has failed to learn from its past experiences.
The party believes it was a huge achievement to exclude several members of the first generation of the democratic movement from the nominations. This is not the right attitude.
The party is heavily dependent on the stardom of Sohn Hak-kyu, the party chairman, and Park Jae-seung, the head of the nomination screening committee. The changes that have been made are far from the drastic reforms needed for the rebirth of the party.
As seen by the modernization of Britain’s Labour Party in the 1990s and the U.S. Democratic Party’s reforms to moderation in the 1990s, when a political party tries to catch up with social changes, new forces and new visions are required.
Even after its defeat in the presidential election, the UDP hasn’t made such changes.
Some 20 years have passed since democratization, but party politics in Korea still haven’t grown up.
It is hard to expect a clear vision for the future from a party with powerful factions fighting each other or a party struggling with a learning disorder.
The GNP must escape from politics led by factions and search for a balance between the interests of elite members of the party and public opinion.
Otherwise, the people will turn their backs against the party before long.
If the UDP continues to fail to learn new lessons, the opposition party will remain weak for a very long period.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jaung Hoon