Reinventing conservatismFormer UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s abrupt dropping out of the presidential race in just three weeks after his return home deepens the frustrations of conservative forces in Korea. Former Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung, now a member of the Bareun Party after defecting last month, is known to have hit the sauce last night after his hope of inviting Ban into his party as a presidential candidate was dashed. Ban’s decision sent formidable shockwaves across the election landscape.
Fourth-term lawmaker Na Kyung-won, who remained in the ruling Saenuri Party, and other lawmakers who represent constituencies in Chungcheong province — Ban’s home turf — also desired to go together with Ban in a so-called third political zone. But no such option is left after Ban quit the race. The conservative camp’s panic over an acute shortage of presidential contenders powerful enough to put the brakes on the popularity of current frontrunner Moon Jae-in from the opposition Democratic Party will likely continue for a while.
If Korea’s conservatives are dispirited, they have no one to blame but themselves. They ignored a very important factor in politics: presenting clear vision to voters. To heal the wounds inflicted on the conservatives by President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment over an abuse of power scandal, they should have seen the need for reform and revival. But what the fledgling Bareun Party has come up with since its launch ten days ago is nothing but a proposal to lower our voting age to 18 from 19. The party is considering legislation to allow Kim Hyun-ah, a Saenuri proportional representative, to retain her seat even after she defects to the party. Current election law forbids it.
Conservative groups were engrossed in pitching a big tent around Ban Ki-moon, a straw grasped by desperate hands. Instead, they should be presenting an audacious blueprint for our future. We fully understand Ban’s disappointment with rampant factionalism, egotism and the pursuit of self-interest among conservative parties in Korea. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, our acting president, may end up running after Ban’s departure — although he should be administering the next election with political neutrality.
Conservative forces should have looked for genuinely qualified candidates after proclaiming a rebirth of conservatism. The election will surely be dominated by campaigns calling for a change after ten years of conservative administrations. Yet it is not too late. Conservatism needs to be reborn — or an election defeat is guaranteed.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 3, Page 30