Lessons from Spain

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Lessons from Spain

We witnessed the pathetic form of Korean politics as it dragged its long-expired life while watching the withering fiasco at the ruling party over nominations for candidates in the April election. It has proven again that we cannot expect to see representatives serving people’s interests when parties field candidates based on selfish purposes, loyalty to the highest power and an endless political vendetta. The organization is getting more spiteful, shameless, cruel and hopeless as it prolongs its life over one generation after another.

The opposition camp is even more pitiful. It does not show any will to regain power. It is merely waiting for the right time to attack and strike down the party head it recruited from outside for so-called self-reform. It is mostly likely to go back to its old ways of line-drawing and power struggles after the election. Even if it is not assured of a sweeping win, the main opposition position is still safe. Its job is already laid out. It needs merely knee-jerk opposition to everything the governing power says and does as it is backed by a certain level of unwavering supporting base.

The ruling party doesn’t have to persuade the opposition. It just has to blame it for interrupting state governance. It, too, has the support of a loyal base. The massive bipolar party structure becomes more and more solid and fixed as it continues with wasteful wrangling, breeding a vicious cycle in the political arena. The splinter party, which vowed to break the old school of thought acts like a maverick who familiarizes himself with the swearwords first when learning a new language. The only goal it pursues is to win a casting board on the assembly by securing enough seats to make it to the floor negotiating group.

To think that to trust our future, or the nation’s future, in the hands of these people would be highly dangerous. The parties will likely seek to extend their life by coming up with various reasons to justify their existence. Voters must challenge them. One watchful option has already been played out in Spain.

Spain is similar to Korea in many ways. The people are as quick and hot-tempered as Koreans. The scale of economies is similar — Korea’s 11th in gross domestic product terms and Spain at 14th. Korea has a population of 51 million and Spain 48 million. The parliament has been run by two rivaling parties for decades after long years of authoritarian rule.

The political landscape underwent sweeping changes after a general election in December. A fledgling far-left party, not yet two years old called Podemos, went from holding no seats to occupying 69 to become the formidable new kid on the block dominated by two mainstream parties. The conservative People’s Party and the center-left Socialists, who have exchanged power for more than three decades, each occupied 123 and 90, respectively, of the 350-seat parliament, due to Podemos’ challenge.

The word Podemos in Spanish means “we can.” The insurgent party was originally bred from political “Circulos (circle),” open-space discussions for people on various issues from child care and farming to music. They were more or less private club activities. A local circle draws 30 to 40 and some large ones over 300. Over 900 Circulos sprang up across the country and are expanding fast to build the “power of the connected multitude.”

These regional meetings and activists were able to unite through online networks like Facebook. Policy discussions and debate, as well as the election of candidates and party executives, are done entirely through an online platform. Anyone without any allegiance to the party can take part. The five agenda items of the party — improving public education, eradicating corruption, guaranteeing residential rights, upgrading the public health system and easing household debt — have been chosen through online debate and vote.

The party raised campaign funds primarily through crowdfunding — voluntary online donations. It didn’t need much funds as it campaigns mostly on online platforms. In just 100 days of forming the party, Podemos spent 100,000 euros ($113,000) to run in the 2014 European Parliament elections while it cost 2 million euros for other standard parties. It won 8 percent of the national vote to secure five seats of the 54 available for the Spanish in the European parliament. It spent just 0.12 euros to win each vote.

It cost just 23,000 euros for a party convention. Expenditures of lawmakers cannot go beyond four times the minimum wage base. The rest is used on party projects. For separate projects, the party turns to crowdfunding or donations.

Podemos’ upsurge stemmed from public indignation to the rigid austerity campaign and sky-high unemployment, but it became loved by the people by winning confidence through transparent decision making and budgetary spending. The party’s campaign slogan is “When was the last time you voted with hope?” The slogan helped draw hundreds of people to the polls for the first time in many years. When was the last time we voted with hope?

JoongAng Ilbo, March 30, Page 32

*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Hoon-beom
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