A daunting challenge for ParkIndependent candidate Park Won-soon’s defeat of his ruling-party rival in the Seoul mayoral election opens a new chapter in Korea’s modern political history. It marks rising civilian power, a weakening of mainstream party politics and the prospect of more structural change in the political landscape ahead of next year’s general and presidential elections.
The Grand National Party was dealt a heavy blow by its loss as its candidate crumbled in the face of a relatively unknown and untested civilian activist. But the outcome underscores the extent of public dissatisfaction against the ruling power. The Blue House, government and ruling party should all heed voters’ unambiguous warning.
The government has been criticized for its lack of connection with the public since it took power, but it remains cold and distant. Most of those who voted for Park effectively issued a no-confidence verdict on the Lee Myung-bak administration.
The GNP’s impotence is lamentable, especially as it still has 16 months left in office. During this period, state governance should not be shaken just because the ruling force has weakened. The president and government should pay closer attention to the public, and the GNP must quickly overcome factional rivalries and demonstrate its united leadership. At the same time, the president needs to climb down from his high horse, dispel his self-delusions about the government’s unimpeachable ethics and realize there is no justification for a lame-duck ruler.
However, the main opposition Democratic Party should be equally humbled by the recent electoral result. It faces a bigger challenge as well as the shame of failing to put forward a candidate from within its own ranks for the mayoral race. DP leaders had to look thrilled at learning of Park Won-soon’s victory, but a sinking feeling would no doubt have been felt by many members and party supporters.
Seoul’s new mayor also cannot afford to be over the moon about his new appointment. Citizens have watched his rise with high expectations but also anxiety. His supporters may be excited about the turning tide in the Seoul administration, but conservatives are skeptical. Even those who voted for him are unsure of his leadership capabilities. Now, Park represents the people of Seoul, or at least 53 percent of them. This will call for greater discretion on sensitive ideological issues and the ability to withstand pressure from radical liberal forces in the name of stability.