Make the sacrifice worthwhile
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Hwang Kyo-ahn, head of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), was carried off to the hospital on the eighth day of his hunger strike. Despite pleas from his wife, party members and medical professionals, he refused to end his strike. I stopped by his tent near the Blue House on the fourth day of his strike, where about 10 people were by his side, occasionally shouting out chants of support.
The mood dramatically changed after a week passed. Hundreds gathered around him. The tent became bigger. People sang hymns in support. Pink ribbons representing the conservative party were hung everywhere. The area looked more like a rally site.
As the strike went on longer than expected, politicians began to pay attention. All of the leaders from major political parties — Lee Hae-chan of the ruling Democratic Party, Sohn Hak-kyu of the Bareumirae Party and Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive Justice Party, as well as Rep. Yoo Seung-min, the former head of the Bareunmirae Party, each of who had once ridiculed his hunger strike — paid him a visit. Those in the LKP could not protest when the election committee vowed to replace half of the members. The ruling party retreated from its plan to railroad the election bill, with Lee now stressing bipartisan agreement. Hwang’s hardball tactics have paid off. Many have stopped having doubts about his dedication to leadership. Moreover, his move has begun to unite grass-root conservatives.
The LKP has kept up its bad publicity streak throughout the year with vulgar language and outbursts that included defamation of the May 28 Gwangju Democratization Movement. Its “old-school” image was cemented with a connection to former Army Chief Park Chan-ju and his scandalously unremorseful comment about the Samcheong Training Camp’s notorious of harsh treatment of its prisoners. Hwang’s hunger strike must break through. After reuniting the conservative support base, the next step is to break out of conservative boundary. He must draw people who are more centrist.
So far he is determined to “reinvent to meet public expectations.” One party member said Hwang confided that his health might not keep up, but he nevertheless would see through his goal. “I could feel he was ready to sacrifice himself.” After he regained consciousness at the hospital, Hwang insisted on returning to his strike.
But the future does not look bright. The fight against the ruling party in the April election won’t be easy. Breaking the mainstream in the party and reinventing its image with a new vision will be challenging. He must give himself up entirely first. He must not aim for a seat in the election. He must declare that he won’t be running or volunteer to place a bid where nobody dares to run. Otherwise his pledge for union and reform cannot gain support. His party members reluctantly swallowed up their complaints about replacing 50 percent of the nomination with new faces because their heads were defying food.
A hunger strike should not only represent someone giving up food. If he comes close to death, he also could hurt his personal ambition. The strike must lead to each LKP member surrendering vested rights. Then, the party will gain attention. Only then will the conservative have a chance of revival.