Hard work aheadThe impeachment vote on Friday does not necessarily decide the fate of President Park Geun-hye. Political parties, whose images have diminished in general, will face a crossroads depending on the outcome of the vote. Not only the ruling party, but also opposition parties may be shipwrecked in a massive sea of rage. Or, they may be able to find a final opportunity to narrow down the distance between civic politics and representative politics.
The Brexit vote over the summer, the victory of Donald Trump as new U.S. president and Italy’s rejection of a constitutional referendum share a common point: the clout of political parties has shrunk in the face of an angry public. The political parties are not merely fraying around the edge: they are on life support with artificial respirators.
Although the politics of rage is overwhelming party politics around the world, the Korean people on the streets are giving room for the political parties to survive. Although they don’t have high expectations of the ruling and opposition parties, they do not simply treat the established politicians with rage. The protesters are waiting for the political parties to follow the lawful procedure of impeachment at the National Assembly, and that is different from the voters in the United States and Western Europe, who are agitated by the politics of rage.
The political parties in Korea will have a final opportunity to restore their roles on their own, in time with the impeachment voting. The Saenuri Party, in particular, is in a life-or-death situation. After the impeachment vote, the political parties will realign, and expectations are high that the Saenuri Party will be dissolved and a new political party will be formed. Expectations are also high that the ruling and opposition parties will restructure their policy landscapes to catch up with civil politics.
First, the Saenuri Party will be dismantled, regardless of the outcome of the impeachment vote. The political fate of President Park Geun-hye, who led the effort to establish and reinvent the Saenuri party, cannot be separated from the Saenuri Party’s fate. More fundamentally, it will inevitably be dismantled because its reform efforts, known for the “economic democracy” and “tailor-made welfare program” campaigns in 2012, are actually nothing but a shallow facade. Amid the worsening wealth gap, the voters expected the Saenuri Party to become more compassionate conservatives based on its presidential election pledges in 2012.
But the brutal reality revealed through the Choi Soon-sil scandal showed that the conservatives, represented by the Park administration, were trapped in an obsolete legacy from the era of our days as a developing country. Power was concentrated on the president — just one individual — and the public organizations and systems demonstrated blind submission to the president. The cozy relationship between politics and business, including a hierarchy in which conglomerates are nothing more than subjects to be controlled and extorted from, showed that the conservatives are still confined by the notions of the 1970s. Dismantling the Saenuri Party, which temporarily put on some make-up to deceive the voters, is only the start of terminating links to the conservatives of the past.
The new starting point for conservative politics after dismantling the Saenuri Party was already laid out by the public. First is the transparency and fairness of the process and systems. The people’s rage over the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations came from the failed process. In other words, restoring transparency and fairness to the system is the goal for the politicians who want to rebuild a conservative party such as Reps. Yoo Seong-min and Na Kyung-won and Governor Won Hee-ryong.
Restoring trust is a more urgent challenge than winning the next presidential election. And the first step to regaining trust is transparency and fairness of the process and systems of the new conservative political party. The enormous state subsidy to the party must be spent transparently, while the presidential primary must be completely open and fair. Those are the first steps for a new start. Only after winning back trust can the new conservative party be able to speak of social alliances and communitarianism, another demand of the public expressed at the rallies.
The Minjoo Party of Korea and the People’s Party must also accept the new demands of the public and catch up with civic politics. The two opposition parties’ chaotic and irresponsible behavior during the impeachment process clearly showed the distance between established opposition politicians and civic politics. In other words, the established political parties’ incompetence and confusion won’t be completely forgiven. If they fail to present a process that can coexist with civic politics and match the contents of civic politics, the rage of the public will continue on.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 9, Page 35
*The author is a political science professor of Chung-Ang University.