Wanted: liberal centrists

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Wanted: liberal centrists

Since the April 16 Sewol ferry disaster that killed over 300 passengers - mostly students - South Korea’s society pledged to reform itself to become a safer, caring, reliable and less corrupt society. The entire country joined in a collective mourning and soul-searching, examining the horrendous neglect of public safety we were guilty of because national resources had been excessively devoted to fueling economic growth.

More than four months have passed and we find our society has backed away from those lofty goals. The political sector that should be at the forefront of such a colossal campaign can do nothing but squabble and disagree.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy is largely to be blamed. It blatantly broke two bipartisan agreements on a special law to investigate the Sewol sinking and the government’s botched rescue effort and walked out of the legislature. It lost big in elections in June and July and its approval rating is now half that of the ruling Saenuri Party’s. Even the relatives of victims of the Sewol tragedy are advising its lawmakers to return to the legislature. Fifteen lawmakers distanced themselves from the party claiming their primary place is at the National Assembly.

The NPAD’s knee-jerk reaction to take to the streets comes from the days of the democracy movement. No matter how far the country has come, the student activist generation still maintains that liberals are good and progressive while conservatives are bad and anti-democracy. The activist generation make up the mainstream of the NAPD. They seem to be more interested in winning party leadership positions than public confidence.

The NPAD could become a footnote in history if it doesn’t grow out of its self-righteous habit of protesting everything. Kim Dae-jung, a long-time activist, finally won the presidency after he turned centrist and reached beyond his political home base in Jeolla. His liberal successor Roh Moo-hyun also joined up with business tycoon-turned politician Chung Mong-joon to appeal to the centrist and conservative voters.

The 15 NPAD dissidents proposed to hold a debate next week with hard-line party members on the party’s direction in the future. Lawmakers committed to their legislative role have not dared to speak out earlier in fear of disrupting the unity of the opposition. The time has come for them to speak out.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 30, Page 30

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