[Viewpoint] Name changing as subterfuge

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[Viewpoint] Name changing as subterfuge

Here is a quick pop quiz. Which one of the following parties are different from the rest?

1. The Party for Peace and Democracy.

2. The National Congress for New Politics.

3. The New Millennium Democratic Party.

4. The United People’s Party.

The answer, which may have eluded younger readers, is number four. The United People’s Party was created by Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung ahead of the 1992 legislative elections, while the other three were all linked to former President Kim Dae-jung.

The Party for Peace and Democracy was created by Kim after the country democratized and he separated from Kim Young-sam, who would precede him as president. The National Congress for New Politics was established by Kim Dae-jung when he returned to the political sphere after ending his self-imposed exile in England. Finally, Kim launched the New Millennium Democratic Party ahead of the 2000 legislative elections to overcome regionalism.

All of which begs another, somewhat rhetorical question: Are the three parties that Kim founded different in anything but name?

Now a similar situation is on the verge of occurring with the Grand National Party, with many of its lawmakers arguing that the party is hemorrhaging support and stands no chance of surviving the next legislative elections, making it necessary to fold the party and create a new one. Established in 1997, the GNP has survived for a relatively long time in the history of Korean politics. The sense of desperation and crisis among party members has apparently now become acute.

But from the public’s perspective, there would not seem to be a world of difference between the GNP and the proposed new party. As the public has high expectations of a new political scene emerging in tandem with the rise of software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo as a public figure, it is only natural for political parties to transform in a bid to meet expectations. As such, it is understandable that the GNP is making desperate moves to try and put the brakes on its plummeting popularity.

But the current discussion is not enough to win back the voters. What the GNP needs now is not a new party name. It needs to show the public that it is repenting its past.

For a long time, many people have already pointed out the growing wealth gap, high level of youth unemployment and growing infringement of civil rights in society. Many have complained that the Lee Myung-bak administration and the GNP merely represent the rich, the elite and the big conglomerates. Such sentiments were visible during last year’s local elections.

Despite the warnings and criticism, however, the GNP did not budge.

Now is perhaps the time for the party to think about where it went wrong, why it turned a deaf ear to the public’s appeals and why it acted in such an arrogant and high-handed manner. And yet, no one in the GNP is seriously repenting their misdeeds and mistakes when they talk about reform.

The internal divisions and conflicting voices within the GNP are not attracting people’s attentions because its lawmakers’ discussions and debates about how to reform the party and society seem to lack sincerity.

Without reflecting on what needs to be changed, and how they got to this unenviable situation where the party’s viability and very existence hangs by slender threads, it seems all but impossible to consider steering the party in a new direction. And instead of surrendering their vested interests and taking responsibility for their respective failures, the lawmakers are only interested in passing the buck. This makes the party seem like a puerile student who is trying to avoid punishment by making lame excuses.

Meanwhile, “ggomsu,” or petty-minded creep, is fast shaping up as a contender for buzzword of the year thanks to hugely popular satirical podcast by Korean pundits. It would be a lowdown trick for the GNP to just change its name and regroup as a new party without going through the pain and agony of reflecting on the past and striving to transform. Such an attitude will never touch the hearts of the people. What the GNP needs is some honest and serious self-reflection, and the will to make some difficult decisions?

*Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily staff
The writer is a professor of politics and foreign affairs at Seoul National University.

By Kang Won-taek
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