The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Moon Jae-in administration is floundering, but the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is failing to take advantage. Many of my friends ask me why. LKP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn recently shaved his head and staged a hunger strike in an anti-government protest, and the Blue House is facing an allegation that its core members meddled in an election. But the LKP is not gaining support even while the liberal administration is losing support. The LKP has predicted that next year’s general election will be a judgement to the Moon administration’s overall failures in governance. Even that slogan is not convincing.
Why did this happen? Because the public wonders if the LKP is qualified to deliver any kind of judgement on the current administration. Did the LKP — in the wake of an unprecedented presidential impeachment equivalent to a revolution — go through any kind of process of sincere self-reflection or sacrifice? Many say that the LKP we see today will only repeat the same kind of retaliations, high-handedness, and a lack of communication if it wins the next presidential election. Many also say that none of the pro-Park Geun-hye lawmakers — except for Choi Kyung-hwan, who is currently in prison — suffered any pains of atonement.
That is why 65 percent of respondents disapproved of the LKP’s performance in a recent Gallup Korea poll. That is higher than the people’s disapproval rating for former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. That is even higher than the disapproval rating of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The party’s disapproval rating among voters in their 40s — who witnessed the LKP’s corruption and influence-peddling scandals when they were young — stood at a whopping 79 percent, nearly on par with the 82 percent disapproval rating for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This is the cruel reality. Since the LKP totally lacks the ability to empathize with others, I wonder if it is really aware of the reasons behind these poll outcomes.
How can LKP politicians ask voters to vote for them when they are now voting to oust their own hateful politicians? Under such dire circumstances, four LKP politicians voluntarily announced that they will not run in next year’s general election. The party was mortally wounded when President Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office, yet its members are still walking around in the political arena. That is a zombie party.
The public’s memories of a party are, effectively, its karma. The Liberal Party — the predecessor of a number of conservative parties in Korea — was created by President Syngman Rhee to maintain his power by pushing out the cabinet of the Korea Democratic Party. The Democratic Republican Party was later created by Korea Central Intelligence Agency Director Kim Jong-il for the military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee. After the “12.12 Military Insurrection” in 1979, the military intelligence agency created the Democratic Justice Party as a political vehicle for Chun Doo Hwan. The Democratic Liberal Party — the direct predecessor of today’s LKP — was the result of collusion between President Roh Tae-woo and then-opposition leader Kim Young-sam. Until Park Geun-hye’s Saenuri Party, this conservative entity has always been controlled by its most powerful leader.
The LKP’s weaknesses, inherited from its predecessors, are a rigid hierarchy and a culture of submission. Its members only seek their leader’s approval. Its leaders did not have to seriously think about grooming successors to lead future conservatives because its members were submissive to those with power. Anyone who offers any kind of straightforward, difficult advice is treated as a traitor. Think about what happened to Reps. Chung Doo-un and Yoo Seong-min. Chung was dumped and Yoo left the party with his allies.
For the conservative party, the country’s future, conservative values and philosophy are a luxury. What they are today is a natural outcome of their perennial factional fights.
As the LKP members don’t have a philosophy, there is no signature message or image of the party. Other than its criticisms of President Moon, the party is only remembered for embarrassing disgraces such as its members’ disparagement of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, a series of hunger strikes and a recent controversy surrounding an attempt to recruit a scandal-ridden general.
Moderate voters account for some 40 percent, but the LKP is pushing them away. It does not know what its problem is. The LKP lawmakers who followed the path of Chairman Hwang’s protests — shaving heads and going on hunger strike — became subject to public ridicule, as their moves were seen as a “desperate attempt to win nominations” for next year’s general election. A protestant pastor’s rally next to Hwang’s hunger strike only fueled public disapproval of the LKP.
There is only one way for the LKP to survive: through self-sacrifice. In the next general election, the ruling Democratic Party is sure to win 23 seats in the Honam region, which were won by the People’s Party of Ahn Cheol-soo in the last election. There is already a rumor that a new political party will be created by politicians in their 30s and 40s.
Why does the LKP still talk about pro-Park and anti-Park factionalism? According to a Gallup Korea poll in December 2016 — just five months before the ouster of Park — 81 percent of the people supported her impeachment. In other words, Park must set things straight for the sake of rebuilding the conservatives. If not, Hwang must make a bold decision. Taking into account the pains suffered by the conservatives in the aftermath of the impeachment, the LKP should be born again.
It is a responsibility to history that pro-Park politicians who are surrounding Hwang and the elderly lawmakers who spent their lives in regionalism-driven politics and outmoded traditions must sacrifice themselves. New faces with creativity and sustainability must fill their boots to realize the dream of building a new conservative movement. The LKP must sever its ties to the culture of servitude and become a new conservative force for the future. A grand unity of the conservatives is possible only when the LKP gives up everything. Only then can it be reborn and deliver its verdict on the Moon administration’s failed governance.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 3, Page 35