Turning over a new leafEfforts to unite conservative forces are gaining momentum in Korea. After the New Conservative Party led by Rep. Yoo Seong-min heartily accepted an offer from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, the outlines of a new merged party are expected to appear as early as next week.
The coupling of the two conservative parties carries great significance as it reflects a growing demand to put the breaks on the liberal Moon Jae-in administration’s arrogant administrating of state affairs based on its overly progressive ideology. Yoo — a four-term lawmaker and a former head of the Bareunmirae Party, a spinoff of the Saenuri Party — demonstrated the spirit of self-sacrifice by declaring he wouldn’t run in the April 15 parliamentary elections and saying he would not demand the right to nominate candidates for the election — a virtue we didn’t see in past conservative parties.
However, an amalgamation of the two conservative parties alone cannot ensure that the public would come around after its deep disappointment with conservative parties in Korea. Unless a merged party proves its competence as a substantial alternative to the ruling Democratic Party and comes up with a brighter vision for the future, it will simply turn into a politically-engineered event to prepare for the general election.
In that respect, Yoo’s remarks — “Our conservatism should be rebuilt from the roots and it must take a reform path from now on” — are very appropriate. The problem is how to put them into action. In fact, the Moon administration’s lopsided running of the country mostly resulted from the conservative opposition’s incompetence. Despite the government’s apparent policy failures — such as serious crises on the domestic and foreign fronts, unfettered populism, suspicions about the Blue House’s alleged intervention in the Ulsan mayoral election, and the Cho Kuk scandal, to name a few — the conservative camp could not do anything — not to mention present alternative solutions to the crisis on its own — and went around zigzagging instead.
Even after suffering the removal of former President Park Geun-hye, a division of the ruling Saenuri Party, and crushing defeat in the local elections in 2018, conservative forces just blamed one another. They did not get support from the public even when President Moon and his ruling party’s approval ratings plunged. The opposition deserves the pundits’ charge that Moon is really blessed by God as he enjoys a high approval rating — thanks to its weakness.
If the conservative camp wants to succeed, it must shatter its image as the champion of vested interests. If conservative politicians blindly insist on their growth-focused economic policy, it will backfire.
To be born again, the conservatives must have the courage to give up their privileges. They should have the wisdom to read the prevailing winds in our society and the boldness to recruit reform-minded people. We hope the two conservative parties take the opportunity to turn over a new leaf.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 11, Page 30