Former NPAD leader lauds party progressRep. Moon Hee-sang assumed the main opposition’s top post in September last year when its severe factional infighting nearly tore it apart. During his five-month tenure, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) bounced back, recording a public approval rating of 29.7 percent in late January - a nearly a 20 percentage increase from when he started as its interim leader.
During an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Feb. 4, four days before the party elected Rep. Moon Jae-in as its full-time chairman, the interim chairman stated that the NPAD must “prioritize” regaining public trust.”
“There is no easy way to earn back lost public trust,” he said. “But yet, we must do everything we can. I will strongly advise the new leader to appoint figures from across factional lines for high-ranking party positions to bolster party unity.”
We need to end this period of conflict between the pro-Roh faction and other camps,” he added, referring to the lawmakers who once served under the late president.
Moon Hee-sang first began his political career in 1980 when he met former President Kim Dae-jung, who at the time was an active democracy activist widely respected among people in the struggle against the authoritarian regime.
During the Kim government, which ruled the country between 1998 and 2003, Kim served as the presidential secretary for national affairs. In the Roh Moo-hyun government, he served as the influential presidential chief of staff. For the 18th National Assembly, he served as the vice speaker.
Q. How do you feel finishing your term as interim leader?
A. I see it as fortunate that I have been able to lead the party without major blunders. When I first took the job, the party’s popularity had hit rock bottom at 13 percent. Now, it has bounced back to the 30 percent mark.
Do you think the rise could be attributed to your leadership?
First of all, I think people started supporting the opposition again over concerns that there should be more checks and balances on the current government. All the policy blunders made by the Park Geun-hye government also contributed to our increased approval, I think.
During my leadership, there was no display of conflict between lawmakers within the pro-Roh group and those out of it. We also sealed our negotiations with the ruling Saenuri Party on important legislative matters.
Some say the NPAD failed to draw public attention to its chairmanship race at the party’s convention.
I don’t agree with that assessment. Many expressed to me their close interest in the race.
Many have criticized the two frontrunners for mudslinging in the run-up to the convention.
That is beyond my authority to fix as an interim leader. That is the reality of Korean politics.
Some also worry that there will be serious repercussions from such negative campaigning after the leadership election.
I am one of those concerned about the aftereffects. But at the same time, I am very optimistic about the future of the NPAD. Throughout the major opposition’s 60-year history, not a single time has a defeated candidate revolted against the party in protest of the outcome. Not a single one has left the party and created his own.
Heavyweight politician Chung Dong-young [who ran in the 2008 presidential race as an opposition candidate] left the party recently. Since he quit, people have speculated that it would be inevitable for a defeated candidate to withdraw his NPAD membership.
There is nothing I can do to stop an individual from deserting the party and discussing the formation of a new political party. But in Chung’s cause, I feel a profound sense of disappointment. His actions are no different than the captain of the Sewol ferry, who escaped the sinking ship and left behind trapped passengers. Those in the party are looking for any kind of way to revive it.
Chung left behind a great legacy in the opposition after running in the 2008 race. But at the same, he is also deeply indebted to the NPAD for all the efforts and time the party invested in him in 2008.
We have steadfastly kept our center-to-left ideological stance. We can’t move to the left any farther from our current position.
What do you think drove the NPAD toward factional conflict?
A sheer sense of collectivism along different factional lines. Our public enemies are those who are only interested in having a firm grip in personnel appointments for high party positions while excluding others. Faction-oriented ideas and action are what we must overcome. In the 2012 general elections, the NPAD showed the ugly side of its factional monopoly. Those belonging to the pro-Roh faction deserve criticism for that and they have been punished by being sidelined from core party positions.
But aren’t you a member of the pro-Roh group?
Some think I am a pro-Roh lawmaker while others think I am not. And that is my peculiar characteristic as a lawmaker. I can’t be defined as a lawmaker belonging to one particular faction. I can be defined as a member of the traditional, pro-Kim Dae-jung group, and at the same time I can be thought of as a pro-Roh lawmaker. I detest the idea of allowing people to have prejudices toward other lawmakers based on their factional loyalties.
You are a five-term lawmaker. How would you look back on your political life?
The Korea that I envisioned and hoped it would become is the same country envisioned by former Presidents Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung. It is of a country where freedom blossoms like flowers in a meadow.
I began my political career out of respect for Kim Dae-jung. I also dream of a country where a sense of justice flows like a river. In other words, it is of a country where there is equal opportunity for everyone and where economic democratization is achieved.
… But now economic inequality has never been worse. Inter-Korean relations have hit rock bottom in the course of the past seven years under conservative governments.
Conservatives advocate for protecting traditional values while liberals dream of a world that is constantly progressing. But has Korea become a better place? It has gotten worse. And that makes me very heavy-hearted.
BY LEE JUNG-MIN, KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]