[Viewpoint] After victory, try a little modesty

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[Viewpoint] After victory, try a little modesty

The Uri Party, split from the ruling party by loyalists to then-President Roh Moo-hyun, won a surprise majority in the legislative elections on April 15, 2004. The party, created by 47 members from the Millennium Democratic Party, won 152 seats in the 299-seat National Assembly.

The new ruling party held a workshop for newly elected legislators at Mt. Seorak in Gangwon 10 days after the election. I still remember the upbeat and victorious mood. The heady rhetoric and strongly-worded banners reflected the new-found confidence of the die-hard lawmakers.

Members debated passionately the philosophical and ideological backbone of the new ruling party and whether it should adopt a centrist or leftist stance. An identity crisis disturbed the birth of the party. One hard-line member claimed that since they had succeeded in a revolution, they should show what a revolutionary government could do.

The Uri Party’s aggressive liberals were behind the wheels and steered the party into a strong ideological lane. It opposed President Roh’s proposal to dispatch additional troops to Iraq to help the American military campaign. It pushed for contentious legislative reforms such as eradicating the national security law and passing a law to punish past political crimes. Political vendettas came first and foremost and the economy and well-being of public were pushed aside.

The Uri Party lost touch with the people and so it lost the public’s support. Its preoccupation with ideological affairs and rhetoric about justice only underscored their arrogance and self-righteousness. They were entirely blinded by an eagerness to realize their ideological goals and didn’t muster the resources to pay attention to the voices and concerns of the voters who put them in public office.

The victors of the April 9, 2008 legislative elections were equally arrogant. The Grand National Party secured the majority of 153 seats. Voters, having replaced the governing power with a conservative president after a decade of liberal governments, also cast their votes for the conservative party in the parliamentary election.

The party easily won and took the center stage four months after winning the presidential election. Their win came entirely from expectations that President Lee Myung-bak and his party would be able to fix the economy and increase jobs and raise salaries.

But the GNP’s dominance of the government and legislature soon became vain and self-indulgent. The nationwide protests against American beef imports a few months after the election exemplified how clueless it was in reading public sentiment.

Instead of trying to appease the people over the mad cow scare, it treated the public as ignorant fools and insisted that the government’s way was scientific and reasonable without giving clear explanations.

The party’s nomination for candidates in the election also indicated that party leadership was entirely self-absorbed and arrogant. Its intentional banishment of loyalists to Park Geun-hye, who ran against the president in the party’s presidential primary, deepened internal strife between the two factions that plagued the ruling party during the entire tenure of President Lee.

Both conservatives and liberals became arrogant upon gaining power and that eventually brought about their downfall.

The past two legislative election results should provide a lesson to the parties awaiting voting results. Ruling parties in the past were too self-absorbed to realize that the power they stood on was as thin as ice and can give way at any moment.

Modesty and discretion could have gotten them halfway, but they fell into the pit. They stomped on thin ice. The winning candidates from yesterday’s election must remember those lessons from the past.

The winners should enjoy their victory for a day. But after that, modesty must become their best virtue. Otherwise they will not survive the next election.

*The author is deputy editor of political news at the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Shin Yong-ho
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