Rebirth of the opposition campThe main opposition Democratic Party has merged with the Civil Unity Party and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) to form the moderate-liberal Democratic Unity Party (DUP), which now shares the realigned opposition camp with the radically left-leaning New Progressive Party (NPP). The new party has embraced traditional dissident groups upholding the legacy of former President Kim Dae-jung, loyalists to former President Roh Moo-hyun and civil activist groups led by the FKTU. But the inclusion of the latter, together with the teaming up of the more radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions with the NPP, shows how the labor sector is gaining more of a presence in mainstream politics.
The DUP has been born to an odd couple, namely the pro-Roh and anti-Roh factions that have split the main liberal camp ever since Roh was selected to succeed President Kim in 2003. As it announced its launch, the DUP said it has combined democratic, civilian and labor forces. But first, the party must find a way of uniting Korea’s increasingly polarized society. Like many capitalist economies, Korea has been struggling with income inequality, high unemployment and class conflict, and citizens around the world have recently been expressing their anger at how financial, speculative and neoliberal capitalism has led to this state of affairs by adopting protests modeled after Occupy Wall Street.
Koreans are also burdened with the astronomical costs of private education, a stagnating real estate market and mounting levels of household debt - issues the government has dealt with incompetently. As such, the DUP claims its top priority will be tackling social and economic inequalities, which have become worse under the incumbent government.
However, the party has also suggested its inability to compromise by refusing to enter discussions on ratifying the free trade deal with the U.S., a policy it adopted at the expense of moderates’ calls in order to establish a coalition with radical liberal forces. It is still refusing to join as it demands that the contentious investor-state dispute settlement clause be renegotiated. This implies that the annual bargaining and brawling over the government budget bill for next year will also be repeated.
Representative Jung Jang-sun, a three-time lawmaker from the DP, has criticized the party leadership for its lack of flexibility. The new party should prove that it has changed in more than just name, fighting for reform in the National Assembly, not on the streets.