A case of the tail wagging the dogAs the splinter opposition Unified Progressive Party now has the main opposition Democratic United Party obediently dancing to its tune, it looks firmly like a case of the tail wagging the dog. As the DUP works to form a broader opposition coalition ahead of the April legislative and December presidential elections, it is tailoring its platforms and policies to please the more radical opposition party.
After facing an initial backlash following its recent vow to overthrow the pending free trade agreement with the U.S., the DUP responded by backtracking from its hard-line position, saying it was only calling for the deal to be renegotiated in a fairer way. However, under fresh pressure from the UPP, the party has again reversed its stance and is now demanding that the deal be cancelled and completely mapped out again. In effect, it has accepted the UPP’s condition of scrapping the FTA in return for a coalition.
Lee Jung-hee, co-head of the UPP, said “cease is a legal term that contains the meaning of nullification.” However, “ceasing” the FTA is tantamount to killing the agreement. The DUP may not have used the term “scrap,” but it has agreed to go along with the plan while masking its intentions through ambiguous terms. The ambitious deal that was initiated by late President Roh Moo-hyun is now in danger of being sabotaged by DUP head Han Myeong-sook, who served as Roh’s prime minster, in connivance with other Roh loyalists.
The Korea-U.S. FTA goes into effect on Thursday, but its life may be shortened if an opposition candidate wins the Dec. 19 presidential election. If the DUP-UPP coalition’s candidate is sworn in as the 19th president next February, they will most likely declare the bilateral trade deal dead in the water in line with their campaign pledge.
Meanwhile, an under-construction naval base in Gangjeong, on Jeju Island, is also being held hostage by the opposition coalition. The project had been decided after a long study by the Roh administration, but the party of his followers is now blocking its construction together with the progressive minority party. Han, who as prime minister advocated for both the FTA and the naval base, recently stood with the UPP’s Lee in rallying against the construction of the base. In the eyes of the DUP, everything now plays second fiddle to the coalition. However, the public will be watching closely to see if the DUP is putting the country’s interests or its own first, and will naturally take this into consideration when the ballots are cast.