A marriage of convenienceThe Democratic Party and Representative Ahn Cheol-soo’s New Political Vision Party have agreed to merge and create a new party. The merger of the main opposition party with 126 seats at the National Assembly and a party yet to be officially established means a de facto absorption of Ahn’s party into the DP. Under the banner of “new politics,” Ahn, a former presidential hopeful and political novice, vehemently criticized the ruling Saenuri Party and the DP as outdated political forces, claiming the old frame doesn’t fit the new era. Ahn’s supporters believed his repeated vows to pioneer an independent way in Korean politics.
Ahn’s about-face stems from the limits he faces in real-world politics. Though his new party once garnered twice the support of the DP, its popularity has fallen sharply as of late. In addition, his party had trouble differentiating itself from other opposition parties in terms of policies and faces, as evidenced by its many members of the old guard - not to mention an alarming lack of home turf, an essential element in traditional Korean politics. Ahn can hardly avoid the criticism that he has found refuge in the DP after hurriedly pulling up stakes on the tent for “new politics” for practical reasons.
Faced with the challenges from realpolitik, Ahn gave up on his self-touted independent experiment in new politics in sharp contrast with previous advocates of a Third Way, such as Chung Ju-yung and Rhee In-je. Though their new parties soon vanished, they at least made their voices heard.
On the other hand, the marriage of the DP and Ahn can contribute to the public good. Despite Ahn’s denial, the two political groups could have fielded single candidates in sensitive constituencies for a strategic victory against the ruling party in the local June elections. Such a move, however, arbitrarily limits voters’ choices.
Political pundits say it’s better for the two parties to merge because there are few, if any, differences in their political orientation. Declaring the union, both parties said the new party will seek economic democratization, a welfare state, strong security, inter-Korean peace and reunification, which resemble the DP’s platforms. In that sense, both sides took an inevitable path.
The DP got its name after merging in 2011 with a splinter liberal party led by Moon Jae-in. But now, it has to rename itself after just three years. The DP and Ahn have hoisted the flag of new politics again. If the new party fails to change the old politics, the merger will be yet another politically engineered coalition ahead of elections.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 3, Page 30