Hawks in charge doomed NPAD

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Hawks in charge doomed NPAD

In the wake of the stunning defeat of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy in Wednesday’s elections, a number of factors have been cited to explain the debacle of the 11-4 trouncing of its candidates. But the problems did not descend from the blue. The NPAD has compiled a record of futility in four major election campaigns over the last two years: it lost the presidency, was outgunned in two other elections and managed a standoff in the local elections of June 4.

One commonly cited problem is the party’s hard-line confrontational approach in dealing with their legislative counterparts in the Saenuri Party and with the administration. The NPAD consistently calls down the wrath of the heavens on its opponents, asking voters to judge and punish what it calls the governing party’s “obstruction of democracy” and the “erosion of the people’s livelihood.” Notably absent is a thought-out set of proposals for what the party would do if it were in power.

According to some party members, the NPAD failed to shift the theme of “punishing the government” to “improving the livelihoods of the people.” That latter theme, indeed, was used by the Saenuri to great effect in their election campaigns.

Speaking anonymously, one NPAD assemblyman said hawks within the party often succeeded in steering the party’s campaign strategy to match their political objectives. “When hardliners step up their criticism of the government to a new level, about 20 lawmakers jump on the bandwagon and soon it seems that they are speaking for the entire party.”

Those party members, he added, “overly interpreted the support they received from some colleagues” and tarred the whole party in voters’ eyes.

Another NPAD lawmaker said a case that illustrates the exaggerated influence of hard-liners is a group chat room on KakaoTalk, a chat program, where opposition lawmakers are invited to discuss issues.

“Of the talks in the group chat room, more than 80 percent come from hawkish lawmakers who are never shy about criticizing the leadership [for being too dovish],” said the lawmaker, adding the moderate lawmakers often remain quiet out of fear that their centrist positions would draw a flurry of criticism from hard-liners.

That bitter drumbeat eventually became the NPAD’s de facto campaign strategy in the recent by-elections. The party asked voters to punish the administration for its inept response to the sinking of the Sewol and scandals surrounding the finding of the badly decomposed body of Yoo Byung-eun, the owner of the shipping company that operated the ship.

The NPAD leadership denied before the elections that “punishing the government” was the party’s official line. But that denial was too tepid to stop the rhetoric of the hawks aimed at voters.

While the NPAD concentrated on slamming the Saenuri and the administration, the ruling party appealed to voters by advocating economic measures to jump-start the long-stagnant economy and endorsing the sweeping reforms that President Park Geun-hye promised to fix social ills laid bare by the Sewol disaster. While the NPAD hurled fire and brimstone, a Saenuri candidate in NPAD country was happily promising that “a budget bomb will fall on Jeolla” if he were elected. Voters made their choice.

Party insiders also said the NPAD lacked a sense of urgency and saw no need to appeal to voters with a policy vision. Instead, it relied on regionalism in Jeolla, notably giving a nomination for a Gwangju District seat to a controversial former police officer, Kwon Eun-hee, a step that eventually affected other races in Seoul and Gyeonggi that were considered pivotal.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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