Men who would be king

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Men who would be king

The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) elects its new leadership at a Feb. 8 national convention. The new leadership should make a significant impact on our national governance as it takes power for the remainder of the Park Geun-hye administration, which has to deal with major challenges like the possibility of instability in North Korea, a reform drive of regulations and the civil servant pension system, and trying to help the lackluster economy recover.

The power realignment within the NPAD should reflect the public’s desire for drastic changes at the top of the opposition. In July 30 by-elections, voters vented their spleen at the party’s co-heads - Kim Han-gill and Ahn Cheol-soo - for their politicizing of the tragic sinking on April 16 of the Sewol ferry and demanded the party free itself from the fetters of outdated ideology. Yet the opposition adhered to its signature tactic of protesting everything with street rallies. The Constitutional Court’s recent decision to disband the far-left Unified Progressive Party, with which the NPAD formed a strategic coalition in the 2012 general elections, for its pro-North Korea platform has also put political pressure on the NPAD to show that it’s better.

As the opposition remained stuck in the mud, the ruling Saenuri Party moved forward. The Saenuri even came up with fresh ideas for political reform - the “No work no pay” mandate for lawmakers for one. As a result, the ruling party took the place of the opposition even on the reform front. The NPAD’s February convention is virtually the last chance for the opposition to regain public trust.

But the leadership race is overshadowed by factional discord in the NPAD. Moon Jae-in, former chief of staff in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, claims he is the only candidate who can dismantle the factional divisions when he announced his bid for party leadership. But how could he manage that trick if his election - if it happens - will rely on the support of the Roh faction? Can Moon really liberate himself from factionalism of the past?

His rival Park Jie-won contends that Moon should not be elected because he wants to run for president in 2017. But there’s nothing wrong with that. A symbol of corruption and factionalism, Park himself was involved in several bribery scandals. Does he have the vision for a new opposition of the future?

Borrowing from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s famous quote, moderates of the NPAD say, “Reforming our party is harder than reforming the nation.” Moon and Park must have some kind of vision to protect a party in crisis from mainstream hardliners still bent on ideological strife.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 31, Page 26

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