Big names are not the answer
Personnel management is everything. In preparation for the 20th National Assembly election, political parties have remained busy recruiting candidates: They believe a good election outcome depends on how many good candidates they have.
Considering the Korean political reality, the reasoning is logical. Voters are more distrustful than ever of political parties, both conservative and progressive, while Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo is taking advantage of the situation to establish a new moderate party.
Many Korean voters visit the polls already disappointed by the existing parties, so in Korea, a good candidate can be a consolation.
In fact, a majority of voters make decisions based on a politician’s character. Some political commentators have found that the reason for the changes in support ratings for the liberal Minjoo Party and the new People’s Party in the Jeolla region have resulted from the competition over recruiting candidates.
It’s understandable that parties hinge their political fate on attracting good candidates. However, the way in which this recruitment is carried out is cause for concern.
First, political parties depend on notable figures. But if they really believe their futures depend on promoting new faces, then what have they been doing all along?
Parties often focus on inviting in new candidates right before election time, and there are people who only express interest in a political career around that time. Still, there are official procedures for joining a party, and the ones who join in accordance with that process are praised.
But parties also emphasize relationships with other politicians. So voters aren’t necessarily impressed when a party leader persuades a new face to join the party or a celebrity voluntarily expresses his or her political ambitions. There is little possibility that the new faces who joined politics with recommendations and support from certain politicians will engage in political activities with public interests in mind.
How about the politicians devoted to their parties? Who would work for those bodies if the people recruited from the outside were more respected than the internal figures? Young people with political ambitions should work for these parties and become politicians. Only then will Korea’s democracy improve. Politicians should be able to say that they are nurturing these talents systematically and are seeking to recruit a minimal number of necessary talents before the polls.
When parties bring in heavyweights, changes happen. In other words, a new leader would seek fundamental changes to suit his own tastes. Parties in Korea are not operated based on established systems and have failed to win national support on their policies. It’s a kind of disgrace, falling into a self-made trap.
However, this is not desirable; party politics need to at least have stability. Despite any change in leadership, a party should maintain its identity and platform. If a new leader wants to seek changes or reform, he or she should start a discussion and seek a consensus. That kind of party is ultimately democratic, prepared and evolving.
Reinforcing political resources is based on the party’s own discretion. In Korean politics, where the public mostly distrusts politicians, political parties must make wise recruiting decisions - and consider what kind of experts are needed, how these talents can be found and how they can be utilized.
It doesn’t seem so admirable when parties compete to recruit outside figures before the election without principles. Around this time, parties and candidates should compete for policies and come up with agreements.
Elmer Schattschneider wrote in “The Semisovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America” that when parties fail to complete their functions, the people become semi-sovereign - not fully sovereign - citizens.
He also emphasizes the importance of party politics in the representative democracy. Korean political parties cannot rely on political celebrities without enhancing competitiveness. These political parties are reducing citizens’ sovereign rights, and they are fools for not realizing that their status and authority are actually being reduced even more.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 20, Page 29
The author is a political science professor at Duksung Women’s University.
by Cho Jin-man