The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Moon Jae-in administration is lucky that it can blame the past administration if anything doesn’t go right. It was established after an impeachment of a sitting president and the collapse of the ruling party unprecedented in Korean history. Compared to a past administration that failed in every possible way, the current administration can look outstanding despite a mediocre performance. The same logic can be applied to the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) for standing up to the ruling Democratic Party (DP). The public are likely to support the LKP even as it is underperforming. Yet to say the opposition underperforming would be a stretch. It cannot take off even when ruling party insiders complain that the administration seems to have already entered a fourth year in the five-year presidential term.
Public perception towards the opposition party is even worse. Polls show that two out of three voters are appalled by the LKP, and the support rate gap with the DP has doubled. The economy and security are in crisis, the administration has taken a leftist swing, and it is not communicating well. Still, people say they hate the LKP more than the ruling party. As a result, the ruling party feels assured that it is fortunate to have such a shameful opposition party. Why is this happening? That’s because the LKP is going backward even while criticizing the ruling party for insisting on finding dirt in the previous conservative administrations.
Firstly, the LKP is divided over the increasing disputes between pro-Park Geun-hye and non-Park factions. It is a complete lie and fraud to argue that the embattled party can survive without uniting the conservatives. They were divided over the presidential impeachment and are still divided over who are really loyal to the former president, who is currently in jail. The remaining group is engaging in a weird internal fight over a few senior positions. It is hard to find a fighter who stands up against the power.
Instead of sneering that they don’t know how to be in opposition, they need to learn from the DP. When the DP was in opposition, it struggled with internal discord between pro-Roh Moo-hyun and non-Roh factions and suffered from fatigue. But they fearlessly addressed the failures of the conservative Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations. They brought Ahn Cheol-soo, a software guru-turned-politician, from outside and unified the opposition. By excluding Lee Hae-chan, the leader of the Roh faction, the DP broke away from their pro-Roh, activist image and focused on the election.
The opposition LKP is just the opposite. Yet they are complacent that the economy is hard, so they would win the next general election as long as they don’t make trouble down the road.
LKP lawmakers often say they are looking for new blood, but no one believes they actually mean it. Those who should depart from the conservative party have no intention to leave. The celebrities they want to recruit from outside are sports star Park Chan-ho and surgeon Lee Guk-jong. That’s a pathetic idea. In Korean politics, anyone who rises to stardom in his or her own field — such as the game of go or a business venture — heads to the National Assembly and pursues politics. But I have never heard any of these legendary heroes making a presence or helping change our politics. Moreover, Park and Lee refused the offer. The opposition actually mentioned their names without even asking their intentions.
LKP lawmakers are mostly successful men in their 50s and 60s, the so-called “herbivore men,” who are used to follow existing orders. They are less likely to make value-oriented choices or actions. They are obedient and take sides easily. They became lawmakers because they consider public service a means to success, and are accustomed to a comfortable life by relying on their bases back home. While they countlessly promise to change a hateful culture, the only change is that the ostriches burying their heads in the sand became more common.
When the opposition LKP was a ruling party, it collapsed after fighting over candidate nominations and loyalty to President Park. For the education superintendent election, it failed to field a single candidate in districts. When today’s ruling DP was in opposition, it won elections by making wise nominations and consolidating candidates. And yet, even after snatching three consecutive victories in general, presidential and local elections, the party’s only campaign strategy is to wait under the fruit tree with its mouth wide open. An administration that did not do well can often survive in elections. But I’ve never seen a troubled opposition party — which does nothing but thank the ruling party for its internal division — win an election.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 11, Page 30