[Viewpoint] Presidential candidates need partiesKorean politics faced very significant turmoil in 1987. I was a junior reporter in the political section of the newspaper at the time, and our first call of the day was a visit to the residence of Kim Dae-jung. Because other reporters shied away, I was able to eat breakfast with him every day and listen to his political views.
One day, Kim began talking about Seoul National University’s Center for Social Sciences. Kim quoted an institute’s survey that found that 60 to 70 percent of the people believed there was no political party that represented them. Kim said the existing political parties were all conservative and they failed to represent laborers, farmers, micro-business owners and other working-class citizens.
I thought to myself that it would be difficult for Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung to form an alliance and agree on a single presidential candidate. Kim Dae-jung eventually created the Peace Democratic Party and ran in the presidential election.
His party adopted more progressive policies, and Kim presented new ideas one after another. Whenever there was an election, he recruited new blood. He made bold decisions and perhaps because of the transformation, he eventually won a presidential victory.
And yet, the 60 to 70 percent of those voters Kim talked about are still floating. New political parties were created, including the Uri Party of Roh Moo-hyun, but none succeeded in attracting the floating voters.
It’s amazing that software mogul and rising liberal political superstar Ahn Cheol-soo has managed to unite the floating voters - or at least raise their hopes for change - within such a short period. The problem is how he will convert his popularity into votes in a real election.
At the root of Ahn’s meteoric rise is public fatigue with our traditional, business-as-usual politics. At the dead center of this emotion is a loathing of President Lee Myung-bak. There is no point in asking people why they hate Lee and if their reasons are just. Elections are approaching too fast to reverse that sentiment. Lee still has one year and three months left in his presidency, but if we look back at past administrations, we see that a Korean president has severe difficulty with any kind of political initiatives in his final year.
Furthermore, the next general election will take place 10 months before Lee’s term ends. The ruling Grand National Party needs to create a new pivot. Otherwise it will be sucked into the same lame-duck swamp the president is sliding into.
The main opposition Democratic Party has exactly the same challenges as the GNP. The Democrats are just looking at Ahn from their ivory tower. A political party has no reason to exist when it gives up the determination to fight for power. Kim Jong-pil, former head of the United Liberal Democrats, did not hide his desire for the presidency because of that reason. In fact, the ULD collapsed when Kim gave up his determination.
The Democratic Party and the Civil Unity Party, newly created by the Innovation and Integration group, have decided to merge, but it will be a serpent rather than a dragon. Unless Ahn declares that he has no political ambitions or calls it a political party that he will join, they have no choice but try to see how the winds blow.
When voters say they have no political party they support, it means they hate everything about the existing parties, not just their leadership. It could also mean they dislike all politicians.
A new leadership that has read the writing on the wall is our biggest need right now. Competent leadership is essential to begin recruiting new blood and creating new policies. Kim Dae-jung successfully replaced incumbent lawmakers in his stronghold of Jeolla during nomination processes in the past. In 1996, 10 out of 17 were replaced, and nine were changed in 2000.
He also had a clear view of his policies. But now, it is doubtful that policies presented by the GNP and DP are good enough to become election platforms. Lawmakers are mostly busy dreaming up populist policies for their survival, like more welfare spending, which creates chaos in national strategy and picks the pockets of the voters.
A president is not an actor who is cast for a part on the basis of looks. Nor is he a Don Quixote who impulsively embarks on a journey with whatever Sancho Panza is at hand. It is necessary to examine a candidate’s historical views, economic perspectives and even health condition. There should never be a candidate that is selected to represent a political party as a mere figurehead.
Candidates and parties must share a vision and create policies together. The lawmakers to be elected next year will serve their terms with the next president. That’s why the two elections are inextricably linked. It is desirable that politicians create a new structure - whether or not it’s Park Geun-hye’s party versus Ahn Cheol-soo’s party - as soon as possible.
*The writer is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin-kook