Return politics to normalAfter abandoning its threat to boycott the vote, the main opposition Democratic Party helped confirm Yang Sung-tae as Supreme Court chief justice at the National Assembly on Wednesday.
The DP had refused to participate in the confirmation vote for Yang ever since the ruling Grand National Party had refused to confirm Jo Yong-hwan - a 51-year-old left-leaning human rights lawyer supported by the DP - as a justice at the Constitutional Court.
In the end, DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu played a key role in encouraging his party to support Yang’s confirmation. In explaining his actions, Sohn said: “We need to revive our party politics, long discredited for the reckless violation of routine procedures.”
In fact, the DP’s decision is perfectly normal. However, it also speaks to the abnormalities in Korean politics, which often bring violent scenes at the National Assembly whenever a hot issue arises.
The remarkable shift within the DP may also be a reflection of the public’s strong distrust of politics in general, as seen in the unexpected popularity in the polls of Ahn Cheol-soo, a doctor-turned-software mogul, Park Won-soon, a liberal lawyer and civic activist, and Lee Seog-yeon, a lawyer-turned-conservative activist. Their overwhelming popularity sends a stern warning to the political establishment: without change, no one can survive.
Sohn’s decision to participate in Yang’s confirmation may be part of efforts to acknowledge the grim reality of the current situation.
To normalize politics in Korea, every political entity must work hard, as the abnormal is too deeply ingrained in our political culture. Earlier this month, the DP and the minor opposition Democratic Labor Party blocked GNP lawmaker Nam Kyung-pil, head of the Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, from submitting the long overdue Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement ratification bill to his committee. Unless the GNP makes a promise to confirm Jo as a Constitutional Court judge, the DP will most likely return to its old position of opposing the FTA.
The confirmation vote on Jo must also follow the National Assembly’s normal procedures. His view on national security cannot be an object of compromise between the two parties. If Jo and DP lawmakers can persuade their counterparts at the GNP, he will be confirmed. If not, he won’t be. In any case, everything should be done according to the Assembly’s normal procedures.