A blow to regionalismWednesday’s general election has helped to mend some of the fissures of regional factionalism that have been widening ever since the 1987 democratization movement. Korea has never recovered from its regional schism despite its achievements on the economic and democratic fronts.
Ruling Saenuri Party loyalists to the president were able to wield almighty influence in nominating people from their club as candidates, and on the other side of the aisle, the faction faithful to the late President Roh Moo-hyun continued to act as a back-seat driver of the main opposition party because they were sure of unwavering backing from their respective voting bases of Yeongnam — referring to Busan, Daegu and Gyeongsang — and Honam, composed of Gwangju and Jeolla.
But that paradigm gave way during the latest election. The main liberal party swept up 25 out of 30 constituencies from the Jeolla provinces in the legislative election four years ago. On Wednesday, the Minjoo Party, whose legacy dates back to President Kim Dae-jung, the first president from the region, won just three out of 28 available seats. The Minjoo Party basically lost its traditional stronghold. The Saenuri Party, which snatched up 63 out of 67 seats in the Gyeongsang provinces four years ago, only clinched 48 out of 65 this time. Daegu and Busan — the traditional home base for conservative politicians — dealt major upsets to the party.
Nothing happens without a reason. A regional vote bank doesn’t collapse of its own accord. There were some candidates bold enough to venture into regions feared as enemy zones. Kim Boo-kyum of the Minjoo Party and independent Hong Eui-rak won in Daegu, Kim Young-choon of the Minjoo Party was elected in Busan, Lee Jung-hyun of the Saenuri Party was elected in South Jeolla, and Chung Woon-chun of the Saenuri Party was elected in North Jeolla. They tried hard to win the hearts of once hostile voters and succeeded. Second, all of them tried more than twice in those constituencies. None succeeded on the first go. They had to devote time and energy to truly turn the voters in their favor. Third, all of them pursued the concept of unity, openness and cooperation. They offered solutions rather than posing questions.
Seeking balance and harmony can help cure divides in our society. The 20th National Assembly must embark on legal and systematic reform in order to root out regional factionalism. The changes we have seen in the recent election should not be allowed to go to waste. The legislature must use the momentum to lay the groundwork for more liberal and competitive elections.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 16, Page 30