Rebuilding our conservatism
The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Moon Jae-in administration earned failing grades for the first half of its term. In addition to economic crisis and diplomatic disasters, Moon is facing political scandals surrounding his allies Cho Kuk, Yoo Jae-soo and Song Cheol-ho. Power was abused to protect the president’s associates. Our Constitution states that this country is a republic in which state affairs should not be abused to benefit a certain person. This administration has committed a felony by deviating from the republic system.
Even Chin Jung-kwon — a former professor at Dongyang University and a renowned liberal critic — said Moon is surrounded by too many treacherous allies. The problem is that the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), whose role is to fight an incompetent and arrogant administration, and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) are actually in lethargic states. It is meaningless if the LKP leaders shave their heads, stage hunger strikes, and attend street rallies. The liberals, centrists, and pragmatic conservatives who participated in the Gwanghwamun rallies to express their rage at the Cho Kuk scandal said they are disappointed at the Moon administration yet they cannot support the LKP.
LKP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn’s political philosophy and leadership are two problems. His ultra-right positions — and a critical lack of imagination — are blocking him from presenting values and visions that reflect the changes in our times. Though calling for unity, he only cares about his associates. Although he promised a massive overhaul of the leadership, he only kicked out Rep. Kim Se-yeon — a reformist who demanded dismantlement of the embattled party — from the head post of the Yeouido Institute, an LKP think tank. He blocked Rep. Na Kyung-won’s bid to run for re-election as floor leader through the Supreme Council, not the general assembly of party members.
In fact, the root cause of the LKP problem is former President Park Geun-hye, whose shadow still lingers over the party. When Park was impeached and removed, the ruling party should have been dismantled and pro-Park lawmakers should have left politics for good. But the party just changed its name and no one took responsibility.
The pro-Park faction named Hwang — a former prime minister in the Park administration — as leader. The Park loyalists are controlling the LKP’s party affairs audit committee and the general election campaign committee, which will play a crucial role in nominating candidates for the April 15 general election. That is what we saw in 2016, which led to the collapse of the conservatives.
The pro-Park faction is an extraordinary political group. Because their strongholds are in the Yeongnam region (South and North Gyeongsang), nominations automatically mean victories. There is no reason for them to study the sentiments of the nation of the capital region. They only care about their own interests. That is why the LKP has turned into a zombie party detached from public sentiment. The liberals, despite their failures, sympathized with the weak. The LKP is in the opposite situation. Voters say they will return to support the DP as long as it changes some failed policies.
Park Chung Hee, the progenitor of the pro-Park faction, was a conservative leader who lived a turbulent life. After Syngman Rhee founded the nation, Park Chung Hee fought against poverty and accomplished economic development. His paradigm, however, did not have a space for the people — the subjects of democracy. The democracy movement ended his paradigm of dictatorship and development. Park Geun-hye, daughter of the late strongman, became president but was impeached and removed from office after a political corruption scandal surfaced involving her friend Choi Soon-sil. That was a turning point which prevented a historic regression. Therefore, it does not make sense that Park’s loyalists have dominated the LKP again after having kept a low profile for a while.
For the conservatives’ fortunes to revive, the LKP should be dismantled without any hesitation. A new conservative party should be created and offer reasons for the people to back it. It must abandon its previous strengths: the way it easily won power thanks to an advantageous political landscape brought about by national division, the Cold War and development by dictatorship. It must present a new growth strategy for the fourth industrial revolution era to revitalize the economy and a social integration policy to reduce the wealth gap.
The LKP must emphasize the importance of national security, yet present a progressive view on inter-Korean reconciliation. It must participate in creating a balanced bipartisan peace process and a complete denuclearization of North Korea. It must not leave this mission to the liberals alone. If the conservatives abandon their red complex and contribute to the advancement of inter-Korean relations while the liberals take the lead in labor reforms, the everyday lives of ordinary citizens will become comfortable.
The conservative opposition party must take the initiative for preemptive reforms. Only then can it check the liberal ruling party. That is the way to save our democracy. To this end, they must let go of Park Geun-hye once and for all. The people are more than ready to support a healthy conservative opposition.