Korea needs a ‘healthy,’ ‘stable’ opposition party

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Korea needs a ‘healthy,’ ‘stable’ opposition party

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Kim Chong-in, Interim leader of the Minjoo Party of Korea


Kim Chong-in, the Blue House’s former senior economic secretary and architect of President Park Geun-hye’s “economic democracy” pledge, has decided to join forces with the largest liberal opposition party. His decision on Jan. 14 to manage the election campaign by the Minjoo Party of Korea, previously led by Moon Jae-in, has cast new light on the 76-year-old economic strategist.

However, whether Kim will be able to wield full authority as the new campaign chief remains to be seen. For starters, the party’s sizeable faction of loyalists to the late President Roh Moo-hyun will not go easy when it comes to who will help lead the campaign and sit on the nomination committee. Furthermore, it must replace 20 percent of its sitting lawmakers and carry out a reshuffling to determine strategic nominations.

However, in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Kim appeared ready to face the challenge. “My assignment as election campaign chief is just the beginning,” he said. “As soon as Moon steps off the stage, I will take the helm as head of the emergency committee and take full charge of operations. If the party is unhappy with my plan, then I will resign immediately.”

The following is an edited excerpt of the interview.

Q. Why did you choose to work with Moon?

A. Because I fear for the opposition party’s future. The ruling Saenuri Party is looking to secure 200 seats in the April 13 general election in order to pursue a constitutional amendment for prolonged one-man rule. Should the opposition be split, Korea may well face a situation like in Japan, where the conservative party has been in power for nearly 60 years.

Based on your theory, doesn’t it make more sense - as well as for your political identity - to join the People’s Party?

The new party’s argument makes no logical sense. How can there be no problem with a split opposition when the split prevents the opposition from putting a stop to the constitutional amendment? A healthy and stable opposition capable of seizing power is needed for the nation to continue to develop.

How did Moon persuade you?

I was actually thinking of jumping back into politics when I saw the precarious situation the opposition was in. Moon paid me a visit and asked me to take charge of the party since he was planning to step down as chairman.

I don’t trust politicians’ words, so I told him, “I can’t stand anyone who would appoint a leader and then irresponsibly leave politics. Are you ready to endure what I am planning to do for the party?”

He said that he would keep his promise, and his answer seemed genuine. So I assumed the position of campaign chief.

If you were to take a position after Moon’s resignation, then wouldn’t it be more appropriate for you to head the emergency committee rather than the election campaign committee?

That’s what I told Moon initially, but he asked for more time due to the current situation within the party and the procedure involved.

Some party leaders have called for the job to be held by two people.

My understanding is that Moon has spoken firmly [against those suggestions]. The opposition party is at its wits’ end and in no position to say anything about my role.

Who will comprise the election campaign committee, and what will the voting procedure be like?

The committee will be made up of about eight or nine members, of which three to four will be current lawmakers. Decisions won’t always be made based on the majority vote. I may make decisions unilaterally.

Does the campaign committee chief select the committee members?

Yes, Moon and the Supreme Council will not be able to exert their influence on this matter.

It looks like many lawmakers based in the Jeolla region may defect.

Those lawmakers think they’re clever. Ahn’s goal is the presidential election, while those lawmakers are looking to be elected. They may be going after the same thing [the general election] temporarily, but that doesn’t guarantee public support in the long term. Look at how the support rate for the Minjoo Party has already outstripped that for the People’s Party.

Ahn Cheol-soo grabbed attention by being “new,” but he resorted to appointing the same politicians and failed to differentiate himself and his party from the ruling party. What exactly is “new” about his politics?

Weren’t you Ahn’s mentor?

I have never thought of myself as his mentor. Monk Bub-Ryun introduced me to him. After that, Ahn suddenly expressed his plan to run in the Seoul mayoral by-election. I advised him to start with the 2012 general election rather than running as an independent. He retorted, “Why should I become a lawmaker? Lawmakers don’t do much.”

After that, I didn’t meet him again until last year, when we met twice. Ahn asked me for advice. I told him to calm things down in the New Politics Alliance for Democracy and wait for an opportunity until the general election, by which time Moon’s position would have changed. Ahn didn’t respond. He’s probably quite unnerved by his new party’s situation. He still lives and thinks in the time when he gained more than 40 percent support in the 2012 presidential election.

Aren’t Ahn’s fair growth policy and “economic democracy” actually quite similar?

No, “fair growth” by definition means growth dependent on market forces. Thus, Ahn is more or less a neoliberal and market supremacist.

On the other hand, economic democracy calls for harmony between society and the market; only following market forces leads to a monopoly.

What specific policy is needed to achieve economic democracy?

We can, for instance, revise commercial law to reform the business management structure. Once the decision-making process for businesses is democratized, the owners won’t be able to manage their business in a dictatorial way.

So you didn’t join the Minjoo Party to help Moon win the presidency?

No, I did not. My goal is to foster an environment in which the opposition can seize power. I don’t trust people 100 percent. All the candidates that I have helped changed their positions once they were elected. Of them, Roh Moo-hyun changed the most. He appeared to pursue policies for the common people, but after his election, he walked the path of a neoliberal.

How will you set nomination standards?

I will look first at the nomination rules. If the rules are made to favor certain sectors, then I will normalize it. The nomination process, above all else, should be fair.

How do you see the plan to replace 20 percent of sitting lawmakers?

There are lawmakers who left the party because of this. But since the regulation has been made, we should follow it.

The public is interested in whether your new recruits will play a crucial role.

In the past, a number of experts joined the party but failed to realize their potential due to a deeply hierarchical system. We should guarantee that new recruits can work to their full potential.

Because you were a crucial member of the Park Geun-hye camp in the 2012 presidential election, your decision to work with Moon - her former contender - is seen as controversial.

Before the 2012 general election, I was appointed as the emergency committee chief of the Saenuri Party, but I left the party after seeing the nomination results. It didn’t look like reform was going to be implemented by the nominees. But after the general election, Park asked for my help in the presidential election. So I joined her camp. As a result, “economic democracy” was part of her candidacy declaration and her address in accepting the presidential nomination.

What if Moon does not keep his promise after being elected?

If what you say does happen, then there’s no use having regrets.

BY Kang Chan-ho, Kim Sung-ryong [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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