Reinventing the DPRep. Song Young-gil, a five-term lawmaker of the Democratic Party (DP), was elected as the new leader of the ruling party. He narrowly defeated Rep. Hong Young-pyo, a close confidant of President Moon Jae-in, by 0.59 percentage points.
Song is the first party chief representing the generation of student activists of the democracy movement in the 1980s. He and Yoon Ho-joong, elected as floor leader last month, will be in charge of preparing for the presidential election next March.
The work of realigning the DP after its crushing defeat in the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan awaits them. Song campaigned that the party must change everything except for the “Democratic” in its name. In his acceptance speech, he said the DP must “move forward without hesitance.” He cited real estate, vaccines, semiconductors and climate change as key agenda items. He promised supplementary measures to prop up housing supplies and a review of taxation.
There is a saying in politics that the opposition does not win, but benefits from the defeat of the ruling party. The opposition swept the mayoral by-elections not because it was favored, but because voters disapproved of the DP. The sentiment has not changed. Moon’s approval rating sank to an all-time low of 29 percent in a recent Gallup Korea poll. The disapproval rate was highest on real estate measures (28 percent) and Covid-19 response (17 percent). As much as 81 percent disapproved of real estate policy.
How the new leadership will navigate radical changes under a complicated allegiance structure is uncertain. Yoon, loyal to the president, vowed to uphold a push for prosecutorial and press reforms. Most of the five elected members of the executive decision-making committee are closer to Yoon or Moon than Song.
The DP’s response to public members’ text bombardment on a group of first-term lawmakers for their critical voice about party actions has been disappointing. Rep. Youn Kun-young, who formerly served Moon in the Blue House, said that an elected official should be able to endure “that much [offensive messaging].” Rep. Kim Yong-min, who was also elected to the executive, encouraged “aggressive opinion expression.” The DP must self-reflect and come up with solutions, but hard-line supporters are hindering the move. The DP cannot change and win back public sentiment.
New leader Song must keep his promise to reinvent the party to act on its words and launch “competent” reform. The DP must become more competent in solving problems of the people’s livelihood. It should be more flexible and fix policies that drew public scorn. This is its last chance.