Reinvention timeOn Tuesday, Kim Chong-in, interim leader of the embattled opposition People Power Party (PPP), apologized to the public for the corruption of former conservative presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. His apology came after former general-turned-presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo served jail terms earlier for abuse of power mostly in the 1980s. Ad hoc PPP leader Kim’s apology is the first of its kind. No president or head of a former ruling party has made such an apology in Korea’s political history.
Some lawmakers of the PPP opposed Kim’s apology as it could translate into its “submission to the ruling Democratic Party [DP]” and trigger an “internal division” in the PPP. But the main opposition party needs to be reborn as a vibrant party capable of being relevant in the future. In that sense, its leader’s apology can serve a timely declaration that it is departing from its tarnished past.
The PPP has changed its name three times in three years — from the Saenuri Party to the Liberty Korea Party to the United Future Party. Despite the name changes, the PPP failed to revive itself because of its inability to get support from the public. After suffering crushing defeats in four consecutive elections at both local and national levels since 2017, the party is still being shunned by a majority of the public. With no presidential hopefuls in sight, the PPP appears stuck in the past despite its obvious need to turn over a new leaf.
A bigger problem is the party’s lack of a sense of urgency to reshape itself into a strong opposition. A vigorous opposition demonstrates its capability to take power and keep a ruling party in check. A ruling party cannot run roughshod if a number of people show support for an opposition party. Under such circumstances, no ruling party would dare to railroad bills through the legislature, as the DP has done for months.
But the PPP has a dilemma. It is having trouble demonstrating a robust raison d’être in the face of the DP’s landslide victory in the April 15 parliamentary elections. Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung, a member of the DP, went so far as to ridicule the PPP as the “people’s burden.” That’s no way to talk about a loyal opposition.
Many people are blaming the DP for its domineering approach to governance. The PPP must reinvent itself after declaring an end to its tainted past if it really does not want to vanish into the dust bin of history.
Above all, the party must discard its bad practice of clinging to self-interest and recruit fresh blood. It also must give the public the impression that it has changed. Otherwise, it can never take power again.