A disappointing turn of events
The Saenuri Party and the Minjoo Party of Korea finally agreed on a new redistricting plan. The agreement came with only 50 days left before the election. The contents of the agreement, however, made us wonder why they had wasted so much time. There was nothing special, just the usual give and take. While the political rookies and minority parties were extremely frustrated by the delay in the redistricting, the two major parties showed little urgency.
When Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo left the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, the predecessor of the Minjoo Party, and created a new political party, expectations were high that the system would finally be shaken up. But the expectation faded as time went by. In various polls, the People’s Party’s rating is considerably low, and support for Ahn is not high, either.
Furthermore, no excitement is palpable despite Ahn’s creation of a whole new party. A few years ago, when Ahn was a political phenomenon, we could feel the wind of change. But today, it is hard to see who the supporters of the People’s Party are, and the party is gaining support only in the Gwangju and Jeolla regions.
In our society, the expectation of a third party does exist. Although it has been almost 30 years since democratization, the region-based two-party system still prevails, and these parties have become the political establishment that resists changes.
In the current political climate, it has become nearly impossible to see a driving political force that will bring about a new social change beyond the 1987 regime. The desire for a third party, therefore, reflects the public’s desperate wish for a new, future-oriented political order.
The People’s Party is showing slow progress because it failed to properly understand why the people want a new political party. Despite the public’s desire for a new party, the voters don’t really want another off-the-rack group.
The key members of the People’s Party are established politicians, thus they feel rather old-fashioned. They don’t seem to be capable of creating new politics. They seem like yet another Minjoo Party created by disgruntled members who abandoned the original Minjoo Party. Because of its members, it is hard to understand the identity and goal of this new political party. The key catchphrase of the Ahn phenomenon, “new politics,” even disappeared from the party’s name.
Ahn probably decided to leave the main opposition party to create his own because of his bitter experience during the 2012 presidential election. He was an independent candidate at the time, and he probably keenly felt the limits of an independent presidential contender who has to campaign without lawmakers’ support.
With the presidential election next year, Ahn probably hurried to create a new political party based on the calculation that he must create political foundations in advance of running again. That is why he needed to approach the party’s launch with an election engineering strategy, and that was why he treated the Gwangju and Jeolla region, largely dissatisfied with the Minjoo, as his top priority.
But in the world of politics, invisible things are sometimes more important than visible things. The values and causes promoted by a political leader and party, along with integrity, are the most important things in politics.
Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung were able to endure years of strong oppression by authoritarian governments and finally succeed because they had a cause: democratization. Roh Moo-hyun, an outsider, was able to become a president because he never surrendered in his fight to end regionalism.
Such values and causes were able to unite allies who share the same vision and create followers. But we cannot find such values, causes and integrity in Ahn and the People’s Party.
The new party, therefore, is not much different from the existing ones. It does not have unique values or new faces. If it maintains its current system, the People’s Party will be nothing more than a party only speaking for Gwangju and the Jeolla region, just like the United Liberal Democrats did for Chungcheong in the past.
Instead of changing Korean politics, we will see yet another regionalism-based political party.
Anticipation was once high for the launch of a third political party, but the exhausting two-party system will likely survive the upcoming election.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page 31
The author is a professor of political science at Seoul National University.
by Kang Won-taek