Zombie party lives
The author is a political science and international relations professor at Seoul National University.
“The Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has now come to an end. The party cannot win the presidential election or even the general election. It cannot protect the falling nation. Its very existence is a harm to history. People are pointing fingers at it, calling it a zombie without life. In order to create something new, there must be destruction. The party must dissolve.” This is a part of LKP Rep. Kim Se-yeon’s statement last month when he announced that he will not seek reelection in the 21st National Assembly next year.
The statement sent shockwaves through the world of politics. Kim, the main opposition party’s youngest three-time lawmaker, was expected to revolutionize the conservative bloc as head of the party’s policy research institute, the Yeouido Institute. There were two main reactions to Kim’s warning. Some people criticized him for using harsh words against his own party, that he was betraying the LKP. And they feared that dissolving the LKP would only lead to the extinction of conservatives and the flourishing of liberals. Amongst this group of pessimists, some suggested that Kim might have connected with Rep. Yoo Seong-min, a former member of the LKP’s predecessor, the Saenuri Party, who’s currently part of a group of conservative reformists in the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party. Some said Kim might be vying for Busan mayor in the next local election.
On the other hand, there were other people who claimed Kim’s warning was right. One local newspaper wrote in an editorial a day after Kim’s statement that there was nothing wrong in Kim’s calling the LKP a “zombie” and a “harm to history” and that the party, indeed, should disband. The editorial read, “A recent survey even showed that 62 percent of the public is against the LKP — the same percentage as those who are against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. For political parties that should exist on the public’s support, that’s like a death sentence. And yet, the fact that the LKP is still roaming around looking for food goes to show that it surely is a zombie.” It means that the LKP has no hope if it continues in its current state.
After hearing about Kim’s intention not to run for election next year, it reminded me of an experience I had while participating in a meeting of the LKP’s Yeouido Institute, where Kim is president. The meeting was about the youth’s participation in politics, and Kim said he wants to create some sort of a “platform party” where all young people can go and freely play, an idea I found interesting. I was aware he was greatly interested in the youth, but I did not think he would suggest an open platform party. I also participated in the debate saying that in order for the LKP to communicate with young people and induce them to join political activities, the party must get beyond the conventional representative system and look toward embracing new participatory forms of governance.
I specifically suggested the Big Society policy, which was advocated by the young former conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, and involves placing emphasis on the political participation of the civic society, building partnership between the civic society and the LKP, and highlighting social value. Through “enlightened self-interest,” I highlighted that the LKP can gain votes from moderates and attract attention from post-materialistic youth. Most on the panel agreed with what I said, and Kim responded by sharing his experiences trying to pass socioeconomic laws in the past.
Everything went smoothly — until a four-term lawmaker from the audience raised his voice. His point was that the LKP appointed Kim to lead the Yeouido Institute not because it wanted him to conduct a new research or try out a new experiment, but because it was crucial to devise a strategy to win the next general election. Kim, who seemed a bit startled, rushed to say that winning the general election was indeed an important task for the LKP.