DP’s support dwindling
According to a Gallup Korea survey, the Democratic Party recorded a 19 percent approval rating during the second week of December. It was the first time in 11 weeks that the liberal opposition party recorded a figure below 20 percent.
In the same survey, the Saenuri Party had a 44 percent approval rating. In a poll by Realmeter, the DP’s approval rating was 20.6 percent, while the Saenuri Party recorded 48.8 percent. When asked which political party they would support, including a party to be launched by independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo, 42.9 percent of the respondents chose the Saenuri Party, and 24.4 percent chose Ahn’s party. The Democrats were only chosen by 13 percent.
In Korea, opposition parties often struggle with low popularity during the first year of a new administration. During the first year of the Lee Myung-bak presidency, the Democratic Party recorded a 10.2 percent approval rating in an October 2008 survey by the JoongAng Ilbo, while the ruling party recorded 29.87 percent. Political analysts, however, said the latest numbers for the Democrats are more serious than five years ago.
In 2008, about 50 percent of the people identified themselves as political independents. In the Gallup survey this month, only 35 percent said they were independents. Shortly before the Dec. 19, 2012, presidential election, the Democratic Party recorded a 36 percent approval rating. In the election, DP candidate Moon Jae-in won 48 percent of the votes and was narrowly defeated by the 51.6 percent of Saenuri’s Park Geun-hye.
The popularity of the largest opposition party has dropped by half after one year. A year of confrontation with the ruling party and the administration has not paid very good dividends.
“Because it failed to present alternative solutions for the economy and alleviating people’s hardships, the public no longer considers it as an alternative political power,” said Choi Jang-jip, professor emeritus at Korea University.
“Without presenting policies, it only tries to differentiate itself from the ruling party by making opposition,” said Kim Byung-joon, who served as the chief of policy planning in the Roh Moo-hyun Blue House.
The analysts’ comments were reflected in the ups and downs of the DP’s approval ratings. At the end of August, the approval rating of the Saenuri Party declined to 39 percent after allegations that the National Intelligence Service played dirty tricks in the presidential election to boost Park’s candidacy. The ruling party, however, rebounded to 45 percent within two weeks after the opposition Unified Progressive Party was hit with the accusations that its Representative Lee Seok-ki had conspired to overthrow the government on behalf of Pyongyang.
Since August, the Democrats focused their activities around a tent at Seoul Plaza from which they protest the Park government and the ruling party’s handling of the NIS election scandal. It boycotted the National Assembly, paralyzing legislative operations. The DP’s approval rating slowly climbed to 22 percent in early November, but it started dropping when the party continued its legislative boycott. The rating also dropped whenever one of its members made controversial remarks.
Earlier this month, young DP lawmaker Jang Ha-na challenged Park’s legitimacy as president and demanded she resign, while senior leader Representative Yang Seung-jo said it was possible Park could meet the fate of her father, former President Park Chung Hee, who was assassinated 34 years ago.
The Democrats are aware of their plummeting popularity.
“Making a strategic choice of drawing a clear line from the pro-Pyongyang politicians, reforming the party to end factionalism and becoming an opposition party capable of presenting alternatives are the only means for our survival,” said Representative Min Byung-doo, the DP’s chief strategist.
It remains to be seen how it will cope with its problem.
“Since the presidential election, the party appears to have become more hard-lined while being distant from the voters’ everyday life issues,” said Representative Hwang Ju-hong, a moderate DP member. “Because the political fight against the ruling party and the government was stressed as a priority, we had no time to reform ourselves or create our own policies.”
BY KANG IN-SIK, SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]