Reinvent conservatismSaenuri Party lawmakers outside the pro-President Park Geun-hye faction declared Tuesday that they will leave the ruling party and launch a new conservative party on Jan. 24. With the defection of the 29, Korean politics will be led by four parties for the first time in 26 years. The shift is not the result of the April 13 general election, which was a massacre for the party, but fallout from a fierce internal battle between the pro-Park faction and the others. Considering the historic split — and without knowing what presidential candidates are fielded by which party — it is hard to predict the future of Korean conservatism.
The revival of a four-party system is significant. First of all, the ruling party must try to lead the country after Park’s impeachment earlier this month. With fewer than 100 seats in the National Assembly, the ruling party can hardly block opposition parties from pushing forward liberal bills.
One issue is how many more lawmakers will depart from the Saenuri, and will the new conservative party emerge as the third largest party in the legislature? The big question is whether it can reinvent itself as a genuinely conservative party with a clear vision and strong leadership.
The Saenuri Party was dealt a crushing defeat in the last election due to the pro-Park group’s arbitrary nominations of its loyalists as candidates — denying nominations to more qualified figures. In fact, the split of the party stems from the pro-Park faction prioritizing its own interests over the party’s in that election.
The loyalist group blatantly defies public opinion, which is very negative about its maneuverings. Despite public outrage over the Choi Soon-sil scandal, the faction does not care or show any contrition. The faction’s core members still refuse to leave politics. That’s why the party’s approval rating hits a record low every day, not to mention its dearth of competitive presidential hopefuls.
We hope the conservative and liberal forces lead the nation through fierce yet healthy competition. Conservative politicians must put an end to politics based on cronyism and blind allegiance to a boss if they really want to rejuvenate a party they call conservative.
The new conservative party, or the Saenuri Party for that matter, must demonstrate some sincerity by taking unlimited responsibility for the security of this country and its economy. Voters are watching closely to see if they will really do that.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 28, Page 34