Opposition must changeThe main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy suffered a crushing defeat in Wednesday’s by-elections despite the ruling Saenuri Party’s culpability in the April 16 Sewol ferry disaster, growing antipathy toward President Park Geun-hye and the opposition’s strategic decision to field a single candidate for three constituencies where neck-and-neck races were expected.
After the NPAD lost even in South Jeolla, its home turf, co-chairmen of the party Kim Han-gill and Ahn Cheol-soo had to step down just four months after they boisterously hoisted a banner of “new politics.” The opposition now needs a drastic revamp - in other words, normalization of the abnormal.
The opposition so devotedly and mercilessly attacked what it called “the abnormal governance” of the Park administration - particularly over her appointment fiascos and a lack of communication skills. Instead, the NPAD should have presented “normal alternatives” to Park’s misgovernance as a reliable political partner of the ruling party. Yet the opposition followed in the footsteps of the administration.
Despite the fact that nominations are a credible barometer of political parties’ soundness and integrity, Kim and Ahn dared to nominate candidates for the June 4 local elections without any principles. In the by-election, too, they forced a candidate for a district in Gwangju to run in a Seoul district. The candidate ended up giving way to another from the Justice Party. The two leaders also brazenly nominated a former policewoman - a whistle-blower - for another district in Gwangju to the embarrassment of residents. The voter turnout in Gwangju - a meager 22.2 percent - explicitly shows local voters’ dissatisfaction with the opposition.
The NPAD also failed to communicate with the public. Despite the ruling camp’s apparent responsibility for the Sewol calamity and subsequent investigations by the prosecution and the Board of Audit and Inspection, the opposition strove to make a political issue of the maritime disaster rather than wrap it up and concentrate on enacting laws aimed at preventing such man-made calamities. A spokesperson for the party even said, “Yoo Byung-eun’s body discovered in a plum orchard is fake.”
Such behavior is typical of old politics, not the new politics the NPAD has vociferously championed. The party must launch a massive reinvention led by junior groups with less connections to deep-rooted past politics than their older peers. It must come up with effective ways to reestablish advanced nomination systems, root out corruption in the public and private sectors, and care for people’s livelihoods. Only when there is a healthy opposition can the government and ruling party do their job successfully. The alarming level of confusion and chaos in the opposition camp also is a national disaster. Without deep soul searching, the NPAD cannot reinvent itself for a better future.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 1, Page 30