The impatience of the Roh factionLately, the Democratic Party has been dominated by lawmakers who were close to the late former President Roh Moo-hyun and first-term representatives. Re-elected lawmakers representing the capital region remain tight-lipped. They rarely show up to party meetings. They seemed to have chosen to stay silent rather than face isolation after speaking out with different voices. I recently met with a re-elected Seoul lawmaker for a drink. He hesitantly opened up.
When I asked why re-elected lawmakers are hard to be noticed these days, he said, “There is no room for us. There is a disparity between the Democratic Party featured in the media and the real party.”
I told him they seemed to feel exhausted by the controversies surrounding the 2007 inter-Korean summit and the National Intelligence Service’s alleged intervention in the last year’s presidential election. He then responded that the largest shareholder of the DP is the Roh faction and politicians supported by the Jeolla region. “They seem to think escalating tensions are profitable,” he said. “The pragmatic middle-of-the-roaders just try to read their minds.”
I asked him why the Roh faction maintains a hard-line stance, and he said they seemed to be going after 2012’s strategy again. “They lamented that they had lost a sure victory in last year’s presidential election. They think they were defeated because of Park Geun-hye’s marketability and personal talent,” he said. “If the Saenuri Party presents a weak candidate in 2017, they believe Moon Jae-in has a chance. That’s why they are devoted to protecting Moon and challenging the election outcome.”
He still said the dream will be a mirage without a liberal alliance. “Look at the by-election in Hwaseong,” he said. “When there are multiple opposition candidates, there’s no need for the opposition to fight in the local and legislative elections. There will be no chance in the next presidential election because the liberals will immediately be responsible for the defeats. Do all of us have to die because of the adventurism of the Roh faction?”
When I brought up that Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent lawmaker and former presidential contender, is a key factor, he admitted that Ahn’s popularity in the Jeolla Province is concerning. “Jeolla lawmakers are sensitive to the region’s sentiment,” he said. “They can abandon the Roh faction and join hands with Ahn.”
He denied the possibility that Ahn will eventually take a step back, just like he did during last year’s presidential election. “It is just our hopeful thinking,” he said. “Local and general elections are different from the presidential election. It is hard to expect the liberal consolidation of candidacies for the presidential election. Ahn is building his own group.”
The DP lawmaker also commented on the party’s conspicuous silence toward the controversy surrounding the splinter Unified Progressive Party and the Park government’s attempt to dissolve it due to its alleged North Korea ties. “I guess the Democrats quietly want the Constitutional Court to dissolve the UPP,” he said. “In the elections in the capital region, 1 or 2 percentage points decide the battle. The UPP has the consistent 2 to 5 percent support. The party was destroyed because of Lee Seok-ki, and there is no way for us to cooperate with them again. It is beneficial for us when it cannot field its own candidates”
When Representative Moon hinted at his intention to run again in the next presidential election, I was reminded of the conversation with the DP lawmaker. After the 2012 presidential election, Moon said, “I will give up my private dreams.” He probably reversed the stance thanks to the strategy of the Roh faction. The summit dialogue and NIS scandals could have provoked him. But his declaration still feels premature when compared to that of the late President Kim Dae-jung.
After his three presidential defeats, Kim needed to show the public that he would take responsibility. In the report to the Kim Young-sam Blue House, Kim was briefed every single day in detail. Some even said the government’s decision to ban all financial transactions under borrowed names was a move to cut off political funds to Kim Dae-jung.
Most of all, the biggest burden for him was the 80 percent approval rating of President Kim Young-sam. With no place to stand, Kim Dae-jung left for England. What is important is his meticulously calculated political return. After he disappeared, Kim Young-sam and the ruling Democratic Liberal Party became arrogant. The opposition Democratic Party lost its leadership. Ironically, the perfect timing for his political return was created.
In July 1995, he reversed his declaration to retire from politics and faced severe criticism. But at the time, President Kim’s approval rating dropped to 43 percent and the Democrats also won a grand victory in the local elections, protecting him from the criticisms. Come to think of it, it was a move of God.
Recently, the TV show “Respond, 1994” has been gaining popularity. In 1994, we witnessed more than just love affairs of university students. The Korean Peninsula was on the verge of a war after North Korean founder Kim Il Sung died. Despite the tsunami, Kim Dae-jung quietly created the Asia-Pacific Peace Foundation and waited patiently.
Representative Moon is free to declare a will to run for president again. But President Park’s approval rating is still more than 50 percent. The public seemed to be displeased with the opposition’s challenge of the election outcome. If Moon truly dreams a second time around, he should give up his seat at the National Assembly and go into exile. There are still four years left before the next election. The abrupt news about Moon is a reflection of the impatience of the Roh faction.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho