[Viewpoint]Where is the loyal opposition?

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[Viewpoint]Where is the loyal opposition?

I admire him more and more. He is nominating his political rival, who gave him a hard time during his party primaries, as his secretary of state and is giving her the authority to appoint her staff at the State Department. He has decided to keep the secretary of defense appointed by the outgoing administration.

At the press conference held to introduce his transition team, he said, “The 53 percent support I received in the election teaches me the wisdom that I should not try to monopolize everything, I must behave with modesty.”

Although he has not yet been inaugurated as president, he is busy talking with lawmakers everyday, asking them for help to overcome the financial crisis. Even from his rival party, praises can be heard: “The American people have made the right choice.” That choice is President-elect Barack Obama of the Democratic Party of the United States.

How competition touches people’s hearts becomes clearer once the winner is decided. The politics unfolded by Obama makes people realize once again that political competition is not a contest between individuals, but between different policies and ideologies. This means that one should not despise one’s rivals and harbor personal feelings of ill will against them afterwards.

Impatient readers will probably assume that this column is about Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. However, their rivalry is not my point today; readers must be tired of reading about the same old story these days.

Today’s target is the party that has changed its name with each change of its leadership over the years but has maintained its tradition as the first opposition party of Korea - the Democratic Party.

I received the results of an opinion poll from a survey organization recently. The survey was conducted on Nov. 20. The approval rating of the Democratic Party was 16.7 percent, which was half of the Grand National Party’s. What was shocking was the popularity of potential candidates to run in the next presidential election. National Assembly Representative Park Geun-hye came first, as expected. The remaining 57 percent support was divided among seven figures and “others.” There was no Democratic Party politician among them. Those who failed or did not run in the legislative elections, such as Chung Dong-young, Sohn Hak-kyu and Kang Geum-sill, came in 3rd, 4th and 7th place, respectively.

Why is the approval rating of the Democratic Party so low? The majority of the respondents said that it was “because they always criticize the government unconditionally” and the second and the third most popular answers were “because there ia problem with its leadership” and “because there are no star politicians.”

The opposition party gives people hope for the future, and this makes citizens swallow whatever complaints they have against the current administration. This is typical of politics.

It is a tragedy of Korean politics that so many people say there is no such opposition party. Everyone seems to see it in the same dim light. Since the Democratic Party was defeated in the presidential election 11 months ago, I have not been touched at all by its politics.

When the governing party announced a policy, it was so easy to predict the reaction of the Democratic Party; mostly it was against it. The party’s stubborn opposition extended to a confrontation against law enforcement authorities in a bid to protect a member of its supreme council who was linked to a case of corruption.

At a general meeting of Assembly members, those who supported alternative means or negotiations with the governing party were overwhelmed by the voice of hard-liners who shouted for “a stronger opposition party,” though it was unclear what that means. One lawmaker with 10 years of experience in opposition stayed away from the meeting, saying that the result was predictable.

People are not moved because there is nothing new, and since there is no deep emotion, it is only natural that no star politicians are emerging.

It is a pity that Chung Sye-kyun, the chairman of the Democratic Party, has changed. When he was the chairman of the Uri Party, he demonstrated the ability to manage minority hard-liners in line with majority rationalists many times. Perhaps he has changed because he harbors larger political ambitions. Won Hye-young, the party’s floor leader, who is known for being rational, needs to learn how to make his voice louder. Only when leaders change will the party change, too.

How about opening the doors for the passage of public welfare bills which are engulfed in political strife?

If they oppose the budget plan, they should do so in a positive way, negotiating minor changes in order for the bill to pass. If not, they should concede, since they are not in power. Agreement rather than fighting is smarter for the opposition. Rather than staunchly defending a few advisers, they should be looking for talented people within their ranks. And, when the next regular session of the National Assembly ends, they should stay up for three nights and four days, or however long it takes, to find their party’s identity and platform.

A bird flies with both wings. Korean politics cannot fly if one of the wings is broken.

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoonAng Ilbo.

By Park Seung-hee

Won Hye-young, left, and Chung Sye-kyun read newspapers at a Democratic Party legislators’ general meeting. Members criticized the results of the meeting as “predictable.”By Kim Sang-seon

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