Lessons from the DemocratsIn a primary yesterday, the Democratic Party picked chief policy maker Park Young-sun as its candidate for the Oct. 26 Seoul mayoral by-election. It is fortunate that the main opposition party has overcome its deep sense of impotence following the sharp jump in popularity of Ahn Cheol-soo, a doctor-turned-software mogul-turned professor. When Ahn hinted that he would run in the mayoral by-election, the DP had only one other candidate, former Minister of Justice Chun Jung-bae. After it seemed Ahn would eclipse all others, Chun even announced that he would not run in next year’s general election until Ahn’s star had faded.
Then after liberal lawyer and civic activist Park Won-soon, who was endorsed by Ahn at the last minute, refused to join the DP and former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook - a strong hopeful for the mayoral post - declared she would not run in the election, the DP gave the impression that it had become a helpless party that could not even produce a mayoral candidate of its own. Announcing her candidacy on Sept. 15, Park Young-sun opened her speech by saying: “Frankly, I am very heavy-hearted now.”
But despite the many disputes over the way it planned to proceed in the primary, the Democratic Party succeeded in producing four candidates. Its choice of Park is a remarkable result, especially following the two official speeches and five television debates it went through to implant in the public imagination a raison d’etre for its existence. This is not only a meaningful result for the DP but for Korean politics as well in the sense that it proves that Korean politics can return to normal despite external shocks.
Of course, there is a strong possibility that Park Young-sun will not be able to run in the election, given that she must now win another race designed to produce a unified candidate representing the broader opposition camp. However, as Park Won-soon said that he would accept the method proposed by the DP to produce one candidate, the second round of competition will most likely be wrapped up smoothly.
The ruling Grand National Party must learn from the DP. The GNP has found itself in an unprecedented state of confusion after Ahn’s rise. It could not find a rival for Park Won-soon or produce candidates of its own, which eventually led to the current mess. The GNP has even failed to discuss how to unify candidates within the ruling camp. Political parties exist to grasp power, and the first step is to nominate candidates representing the party. The GNP, however, still appears incapable of getting what it needs.