No change, no victoryThe People Power Party (PPP) held a vision presentation Tuesday by contestants for the leadership of the main opposition ahead of its national convention slated for June 11. Eight contenders enthusiastically pleaded for support for five minutes each. A comment on the live coverage of the show included surprises from party members. “Why am I watching the presentations so closely when it’s not even a presidential debate?”
Such a fever was unimaginable in the conservative party’s past races for the chair post — and was clearly different from the same race in the ruling Democratic Party (DP) earlier this month. The excitement owes much to the growing popularity of political rookies like Lee Jun-seok, a former member of the Supreme Council of the PPP, Rep. Kim Woong, a former prosecutor, and Rep. Kim Eun-hye, a former TV journalist. Above all, Lee took an overwhelming lead over political veterans such as Joo Ho-young and Na Kyung-won — both former floor leaders — in a recent survey.
It is uncertain how many of the fresh faces will pass a preliminary contest based on opinion polls on Wednesday and Thursday and be included among the five finalists. The results also could be affected by the main round of the contest in which the winner is determined by party members’ votes (70 percent) and public opinion polls (30 percent).
And yet, such frenzy marks a milestone in Korean politics. It was in 1964 when former President Kim Young-sam was elected floor leader of the opposition at age 37. Six years later, forty-something politicians running for president were simply dismissed as “too young to have political senses.” Even after the industrialization and democratization eras, politicians in their 30s were a precious few.
The marvelous heat in the race of the PPP reflects the public’s negative views about the Moon Jae-in administration before and after the DP’s crushing defeats in the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan. It also reflects a desire for change as concisely diagnosed by Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong. “A political party that departs with the familiar pasts will take power,” he said. The PPP must reinvent itself to take a rational and centrist path instead of adhering to its right-wing ideology and relying on voters in South and North Gyeongsang provinces.
Some old school members of the PPP have dismissed the popularity of fresh faces as “just a fleeting moment.” In terms of the need for experience and career, his comment could be right. But the conservative party must not forget the meaning of the revolt by the young.