Prove it with actionIn a New Year’s speech yesterday, opposition Democratic Party Chairman Kim Han-gill underscored “political reform breaking away from conventional thinking,” and went on to pledge an end to factionalism in his party and excessive slander against other parties, and advocated for transparent nominations in party politics. His self-diagnosis deserves praise, considering the criticism that the DP has been carried away by political fights led by hard-liners in which undignified words have been used. Kim took the lead to abolish the party’s right to nominate candidates for district offices and councils. He urged the ruling Saenuri Party to do the same.
When it comes to political innovation, action always speaks louder than words. Citing the DP’s weak position on North Korea’s human rights situation, Kim announced his party will support a law to help promote the livelihood and the human rights of North Koreans. That reflects a changed current in the liberal party after last month’s shocking and brutal execution of Jang Song-thaek, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle.
There has been no progress in passing a law about the North’s human rights violations for nearly 10 years. Despite the ruling party’s efforts to introduce such a bill, the DP has repeatedly vetoed it on grounds that it would not improve North Korean human rights. Instead, the opposition has focused more on promoting the need for humanitarian aid. The DP must ask itself if it really did its best in this realm. The party must cooperate with the ruling party to pass a law - which could incorporate some dimension of humanitarian aid - in the upcoming February session within the framework of the government’s North Korea policy.
Local elections in June will be a litmus test for political innovation, and much will depend on whether the opposition camp will form another electoral alliance as in the past. At the moment, forces trying to set up a new political party spearheaded by independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo - the former presidential hopeful who withdrew his candidacy at the last minute and gave support to the DP’s Moon Jae-in - are not keen on an alliance with the DP.
Since Lee Seok-ki of the splinter Unified Progressive Party, the DP’s coalition partner in the 2012 general elections, awaits trial for conspiracy to subvert the state, a voice calling for soul-searching was heard inside the DP. Many critics say an unconditional alliance with other liberal parties will only backfire.
Kim said his party must avoid a situation where the Saenuri Party fishes in troubled waters, suggesting a possibility of yet another coalition with the minor opposition party. We understand Kim’s plight as head of the opposition. But if he really cares about political reform, he must prove that he can break away from conventional politics. Only then will voters pay attention to his call for political reform.