Dark side of Korean politicsSim Dae-pyung, a co-leader of the Liberty Forward Party, bolted from his party due to friction with party co-chair Lee Hoi-chang over the possibility Sim would be offered the prime ministerial post in the imminent cabinet reshuffle. This sparked a smear campaign between Lee and President Lee Myung-bak. The fiasco lays bare the dark side of Korean politics - surreptitious, ambiguous in identity, domineering in leadership and self-serving.
In offering the post to Sim, a four-time governor of South Chungcheong, the president may have been aiming for closer ties with the conservative Liberal Forward Party, an image of inclusiveness via the appointment of an opposition party leader and greater support from the central region electorate ahead of next year’s local elections. Based on the potential for political gains like these, his choice was understandable. However, when Korean political ethics are considered, it becomes clear that Sim’s acceptance of the position would have been unacceptable.
In the United States, a member of Congress from an opposition party will often accept an offer for a cabinet post. However, the person is usually motivated by his or her own political aspirations rather than being influenced by the goals of the party as a whole. It may not cause more than a ripple on the U.S. political landscape. In Korea, however, it reverberates like a shock wave. This is because in Korean politics, an individual cannot be detached from his or her party, especially if that person happens to be a party leader. The Liberty Forward Party, for its part, cannot give its blessing to a key member of its party joining the ruling party, a move that would weaken its base in Chungcheong.
If the government and ruling party had wanted Sim, they should have gone through the proper procedure of agreeing on a coalition with the Liberty Forward Party first, and only after they had the understanding of the voters, who would find it odd to have an opposition leader as the head of government. The presidential office and Sim were both indiscreet.
Liberty Forward Party Chair Lee insisted that Sim was chosen because he demanded that the government accept the party’s proposal to turn Sejong, South Chungcheong, into a special municipal city and adopt a federalist system, or the union of self-governing states, as the conditions for his joining the cabinet.
The idea of a federalist system is at once unfamiliar to the public and an issue for constitutional reform. If the Liberty Forward Party felt so strongly about its policy proposals, it should have pursued them openly rather than through backdoor deals. Lee should have focused on better communication with his party about what was happening with Sim.