[Viewpoint] Beyond region-based parties

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[Viewpoint] Beyond region-based parties

The candidate registration for the general election has been completed, and the election campaign for the National Assembly seats has begun in earnest. In the past few months, both ruling and opposition parties have been preparing for the election, and their efforts have been mostly positive endeavors.

The ruling party changed its name to Saenuri Party to separate itself from the negative images of the past, though the move was considered an old trick. Nevertheless, it is understandable as the ruling party deliberated ways to bring changes and reform. The Democratic Unity Party has brought the oppositions together successfully and attained a coalition with the United Progressive Party for the general election. We have not seen such innovative political moves very often in the past.

Parties’ choices for nomination of the candidates always bring noises, and this year’s general election was no exception. But it is noteworthy that both the ruling and opposition parties tried to give objectivity for their choices, at least on the surface. Also, it is praiseworthy that new faces with professional backgrounds were brought in and younger people were invited to participate in the party and politics as a whole. Not all but many of the politicians who did not get a nomination made graceful exits, a reaction very different from the past.

How about whipping the galloping horse? The pillars bolstering the representative democracy are the political parties. The parties are made up of people who share the same objective and values for the nation and pursue to take the helm of the government. Therefore, the core of a political party is the policies and the visions. In order to promote their own policies, political parties in Korea need to break away from their regional ties. Whether you come from the Yeongnam region or the Honam region, the regional affiliation does not change your vision for the nation and policy direction. The focus of the passion depends on personal philosophy.

Not everyone in Yeongnam are conservative and not everyone in Honam have liberal values, so it hardly makes sense that the political parties in Korea are so strongly attached to the regions. In democratic countries, support for political parties varies in different regions. But it is very hard to find such an extreme case like Korea, where a certain party does not win a single seat in a region that is not its own stronghold.

If only the Democratic Party’s candidates are elected in the Honam region and the Saenuri Party sweeps up all seats in the Yeongnam region, political parties in Korea will not become policy-oriented entities. As long as the parties expect to win in their traditional bases and think they deserve to win without making efforts, the Korean politics won’t make any progress.

The chronic vices of the Korean politics, such as excessive opposition or factional discords, have created deadlock in the national administration, and politics has become a joke. The main cause is that political parties’ existence is based on regional sentiments rather than policies and values. The parties believe that they need to give a hard time to the other side by opposing recklessly, even if the policy had been supported by them when they were the ruling party.

This practice is not limited to the present opposition party. The current ruling party had done the same when it was an opposition. It illustrates that the political parties are groups that do not promote policies and values but pursue to take over the power with regional bases instead. Under the circumstances, even the most capable and fresh new face is nominated and elected, he cannot deviate from the selfish and unreasonable politics in the National Assembly.

This time, the Democratic Unity Party has made considerable efforts. Political heavyweights such as Moon Jae-in, Moon Sung-keun and Kim Boo-kyum are running in the Yeongnam region, proving the sincere and strong will to reinvent itself from the regional base. In contrast, Saenuri Party, which had made even more endeavors to improve its image in the past few months, did not make any effort to deviate from the regionalism. It did not even nominate a candidate in 13 districts in the Honam region. It is only natural that some Honam residents have conservative values and some Yeongnam people pursue liberal ideas. The politics of Korea will only be normalized when these people become elected as a lawmaker from their regions.

The past administrations that became the root of Saenuri Party are largely responsible for excessive regional influence in politics. For 35 years, Yeongnam-based administrations let their people monopolize key positions and power. The imbalance has largely been corrected after the Kim Dae-jung and the Roh Moo-hyun administrations. However, both ruling and political parties need to make strenuous efforts to get rid of the last remaining walls of unnecessary regional sentiments and limited choices for political parties. It would mean a true party reform and transformation.

It has become even clearer that what changes the parties and politics are not the emergency council or the supreme council but the citizens. When the voters cast their votes in the upcoming election, the choices should not be made because of the party’s general popularity in the region but be based on the character and history of the candidates and the values and policies of the parties. Political parties’ regional tie is an obstacle that we must clear in order to attain true representative democracy and party politics.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

by The author is a professor of economics at Sogang University.

by Cho Yoon-jae
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