The NPAD chases its tail

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The NPAD chases its tail

Will the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) be able to succeed in reforming itself? Its executive members council approved a reform committee’s proposal on July 13 but delayed voting on a sensitive plan to abolish the Supreme Council and to form an evaluation committee for elected officials. Although the party has been promoting its reform efforts, no one seems to genuinely welcome them. Concerns are also growing that the reforms are actually splitting the party rather than uniting it.

It is true that the factional divide is a serious challenge for the NPAD and solving it won’t be easy. But the current situation fuels skepticism that the reforms are nothing but a slogan. The party justified the reforms as something being done for the people. But the proposals promise the public nothing in terms of what kinds of politics the party will play. They’re all about how to reorganize the party’s official posts, who will have greater power, who will have lesser, and who will make nominations. What do the people care about who has the party chairmanship, who shares power with whom or who will end up with the most power?

In other words, the proposals are really an attempt to give all powers to Chairman Moon Jae-in. The NPAD used to have a collective leadership. The Supreme Council is its highest decision-making body. When the Supreme Council is abolished, the party will be left with only a chairman. Will the factionalism disappear when non-mainstream members are effectively gagged? Will the factions disappear through such a means? The reform measures only encourage members to leave the party to create their own new groups.

Instead of the Supreme Council, the reform committee said a new leadership will be created with representatives of regions, generations and classes. They won’t be the same as the Supreme Council members, who were elected through a party convention. They will just listen to the chairman who appointed them. If each representative tries to influence nominations, it will start a new factional fight. It makes us wonder if anything can actually root out regionalism.

The reform committee said the evaluation committee for elected officials, which will be in charge of nominations, will include only outside members. That sounds dramatic, because senior NPAD members seem to be giving up their established influence in the party. But this is not a new idea. The Saenuri Party and the NPAD both tried to create nomination committees with outsiders. They were often used as means to ride roughshod over opponents of the leadership.

The reform efforts seem desperate because the factional fight is so serious. There are no charismatic politicians like the three Kims from the past, and it would be very difficult to replace the sitting lawmakers. We understand the desperation to resort to an emergency measure ahead of elections. But that isn’t justification of choosing the efficiency of a strong monolithic leadership over democracy. And the public can’t help but see the power struggles of the party.

The situation has come to this because the NPAD does not understand why it is reforming itself and what it did wrong. This is lamentable. The Park Geun-hye administration is exhausted after the National Intelligence Service’s illegal influence over the presidential election, the Sewol sinking and the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan are rocky because of the provocations of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while inter-Korean relations are frozen. The yen is low, while the country is facing worst-ever youth unemployment. Public servants are turning their backs on the government because of pension reforms.

What has the NPAD done to straighten out this chaos? Does it really have faith in a leader who made an impromptu decision to join a hunger strike when he went to it to stop the protest? Does it really expect support when the executive members council, responsible for approving reforms, reversed a punishment for a politician who often attacks others with vulgar language?

The NPAD has lost almost all elections since the 2007 presidential election. During the Park administration alone, it lost last year’s local elections and four consecutive by-elections. Since 2008, it has launched seven reform bodies. That’s why no one is actually interested in its reform measures.

It will never be able to narrow down the approval ratings gap of more than 10 percent with the Saenuri Party no matter how badly the ruling party performs, how bad the economy is and how badly the MERS outbreak was handled.

The public is not expecting the NPAD to do anything great. The NPAD is not capitalizing on such low expectations. Is it really wise to blame the Supreme Council members and is this really a problem that can be resolved by giving all power to the chairman?

The NPAD has no sense of what has gone wrong. Unless they are truly desperate, they won’t be able to find a path. Because they are not reflecting on themselves, every move is engineered by politics. They only focus on winning votes.

A political party’s goal is winning a presidential election and implementing its policies and its philosophies. So, there’s no reason to criticize its determination to win elections. But what it wants to do after winning the presidency or control of the legislature is more important than just winning.

In fact, it is actually better for the party members to fight with an aim to win the presidency. What’s more pathetic are their attempts to win the chairmanship. Do they really think their chairmanship automatically means reform?

Democracy has a long history. There were countless experiments on the structures of a political party and nomination processes. It is just a matter of choice. A procedure for a party is, of course, important, but that cannot be its essence. The survival of a political party is actually threatened by its worrying about the processes and how things get done. Its judgment and values count more. In other words, what it will do after winning the presidency is key.

For an opposition party, criticizing the administration and the ruling party isn’t the be-all and end-all. The North Korea issue and diplomacy with neighbors are not just matters for the ruling party. The late Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, when they were alive and opposition politicians, didn’t just criticize the ruling party and the president. They always contemplated and fought with new policies and solutions.

Reform will only find its way when the NPAD seriously looks at itself and reflects, rather than just making a show.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 17, Page 31

*The author is a senior columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin-kook

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