A third force
The People’s Party, led by former presidential contender Ahn Cheol-soo, has kicked off an ambitious attempt to establish a third party in Korea’s longstanding two-party system. Voters now have to choose their favored candidate from among the ruling Saenuri Party and several opposition parties in the upcoming April 13 general election.
Despite controversies over the new party helping deepen divisions in the opposition camp, the emergence of a third party championing moderate reforms in Korea’s polarized - and confrontation-crazy - form of politics is healthy. Politicians are agonizing over overdue redistricting of constituencies and desperately needed reform bills stalled at the National Assembly due to the politics of confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties.
The People’s Party led by Ahn - a software tycoon-turned-politician - vows to bring change to the two-party system that fueled the politics of ideological confrontation and division. The party took a step in the right direction by upholding the politics of dialogue and compromise to enact bills to help people’s livelihood. As the party professed, new politics could start when politicians overcome ideological division and regional conflict.
Of course, the job will not be easy considering the solid two-party system and deep ideological schism in Korea. At the moment, the People’s Party needs three more lawmakers to become a negotiation bloc in the legislature. (As of Tuesday, the party secured 17 seats.) If it fails to woo three more legislators, it cannot join the ruling and main opposition parties in negotiations over bills.
Moreover, the mainstream faction of the party is composed of Ahn’s friends or those who defected from the liberal Minjoo Party of Korea, the main opposition. That’s why a ferocious internal battle broke out over new leadership, not to mention an identity crisis from some members’ vehement resistance against paying tribute to Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee. And yet, we don’t see new faces that can represent reformed conservatism or rational progressivism. The party struggles with lower approval ratings than a few weeks ago.
Still, it may be able to play its role as a third party and reduce the despair voters feel about the ruling and opposition parties’ irresponsibility. If the party wants to draw support from conservative or middle-of-the-road voters, it must continue to demonstrate sincerity. If it opts to follow in the footsteps of countless political parties that merged into existing parties, it will go nowhere.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 3, Page 30