Hungry and all alone
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Liberty Korea Party (LKP) Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn is the only opposition leader in history to shave his head and go on a hunger strike. Former presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung went on hunger strikes, but didn’t shave their heads. But when it comes to Hwang’s hunger strike, the public is asking why, rather than supporting his cause. His timing is not good. Many think it is a tactic to avoid Rep. Kim Se-yeon’s pressure on him to step down from the leadership as Kim announced he would not run in the general election.
Hwang may feel bitter because people don’t understand his intention “to go on a hunger strike and risk his life to block the ruling party’s attempt to fast-track bills to start a new investigative agency for high-level public officials and electoral revisions for proportional representation.” The core point of his indefinite hunger strike is to encourage 108 lawmakers of the LKP to resign. Without their support, it will not be easy for the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to fast track the bills, and Hwang calculated that if the DP tries to railroad them through, there would be a backlash.
But his calculation is faulty. The DP feels that losing the general election is the main thing to avoid. The administration would become helpless, and key members would have to worry about their safety after their terms. Therefore, even if LKP members resign, the ruling party would swallow a bit of criticism and push the fast-track bills to help win the general election. In that case, I wonder if the LKP has any option left after using such strong moves as a hunger strike and mass resignations.
When Hwang suddenly announced his hunger strike on the morning of Nov. 20, LKP lawmakers were busy asking reporters why Hwang did it. Party leaders only heard of Hwang’s plan two days before and tried to discourage him. They doubted that he would actually go on the strike. They pointed out that Hwang resorted to the strike after discussing it with his small inner circle. A senior LKP lawmaker lamented the fact that those few who served Hwang when he was prime minister blocked non-mainstream members’ access to Hwang’s office and limit Hwang’s ability to think. The official party line is not so different. Secretary General Park Maeng-woo, Deputy Secretary General Choo Kyung-ho, Chief of Staff Kim Do-eup, and chief spokesman Kim Myung-yeon are all from the pro-Park Geun-hye faction. So the LKP is so far from the moderate public sentiment.
Secretary General Park, who will take charge of the general election, is seriously insensitive. This is what an LKP insider said about the party. After Park took office last summer, he met with local chapter managers and said that the party was rebounding. The chapter managers asked for his reasoning, as the party’s ratings were very poor at the time because it was before the Cho Kuk scandal broke out. Park responded that the mood in his district of Ulsan was very good, and everyone was dumbfounded. Those who think the sentiment in Seoul and capital region is the same as in Gyeongsang province still dominate key posts like secretary general and shout outdated slogans like “War against the leftist administration!” As a result, young people who met Chairman Hwang even commented that the LKP was old and outdated.
At this critical juncture, LKP floor leader Na Kyung-won left for the United States on Nov. 20. On the very day her boss went on a hunger strike — because “the life of the party is in crisis” — she is on a five-day trip to Washington. This is the epitome of broken politics. So the LKP’s merger with the Bareunmirae Party (BP) led by Rep. Yoo Seung-min won’t work. BP lawmakers close to Yoo are busy asking LKP members why Hwang does not respond to his three demands for a merger and stages a show like launching a “coalition promotion committee.” A party merger should be agreed to by the two leaders in private, and the convention effect should be maximized by making the final agreement public. But Hwang is going in the opposite way.
I understand Hwang’s loyalty to go on a hunger strike. But a hunger strike of a politician can only succeed if he wins the hearts and minds of the public. Hwang started a hunger strike without getting public support. Those close to him tried to discourage him and asked if he could endure it as it could go on for ten days. Hwang reportedly said he would continue until he collapses. For a hunger strike to work, he should communicate with people and win their hearts by first unifying the opposition. In his 62 years of life, he is going on his first hunger strike. But many people worry whether he can attain his goal.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 21, Page 28