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Still in quagmire

Publication Date : 05-02-2013


One-and-a-half months have passed since the presidential election, but the main opposition Democratic United Party is still trying to work out why it failed to win.

The opposition party sponsored 12 rounds of debate on the question from January 23-30. On the morning of January 30, for instance, a group of 10 first- and second-term lawmakers affiliated with the party held a forum to evaluate the December 19 election and the prospects for future presidential elections. In the afternoon, female lawmakers dealt with a similar topic from their own perspective.

Emerging from the debate was a consensus that the party had failed to win the hearts and minds of the middle class. But the problem is that Moon Jae-in, who was the party’s candidate, and his inner group do not appear ready to embrace the conclusion and hold themselves accountable for the electoral defeat.

A leading participant in the debate made a convincing case when he said the party had fanned ideological confrontation during the campaign, alienating many of the undecided middle class voters. He said that the party’s 1997 presidential nominee, Kim Dae-jung, won the election because he promoted national unity while playing down the ideological division.

Indeed, the party’s leftist faction, which rallied behind the presidential candidate, drove away moderate middle class voters by refusing to tone down its ideological stance on controversial election issues. Instead, it showed its true colors when it vehemently opposed the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island and demanded a revision to the Korea-US free trade agreement, which it claimed was severely skewed in favor of the United States.

Instead of keeping a low profile after the presidential election, the faction has been seeking to put the party under its control by fielding one of its members as a candidate for the election of the floor leader and exercising its influence on the selection of an interim party leader.

Moreover, few doubt that the faction, which is led by those who were close to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, will field one of its member as a candidate for the election of the party leader at a national convention, scheduled for May 18. Fierce factional strife is already expected.

On Friday, a committee was formed with a task to prepare for the national convention. But even the preparatory committee was divided along factional lines.

No less ludicrous is the party’s attempt to pass the buck. Its interim leader said in a recent interview with a news outlet that Ahn Cheol-soo, who, as an independent candidate, bowed out of the presidential race in support of Moon, should be jointly held responsible for the electoral defeat. The party’s think tank went one step further when it claimed Ahn would find it difficult to make a comeback because he was a political outsider.

Rank-and-file lawmakers were equally misled when they resisted the party’s attempt to win back disillusioned supporters by promising political reform. They grumbled about the party’s decision to push for a 30 per cent cut in lawmakers’ pay and an end to their lifelong pension programme, which provides benefits even for those who have served for a single day.

No wonder the party plummeted in its approval ratings. Who, except for diehard patrons, would continue to support such a party?

A survey of 2,500 eligible voters conducted by the pollster Realmeter during the January 21-25 period, 29 per cent supported the opposition party, compared with 49.8 per cent for the ruling conservative Saenuri Party. The approval ratings dropped from 42 per cent shortly ahead of the presidential election to the low 30s shortly after the election and are now below the 30 per cent level.

If it ever wants to beat the ruling party, the party must keep itself from being controlled by ideologues and bring itself closer to the center of the ideological spectrum. It also needs to keep away from the small parties on the far left, which are accused of being subservient to the North Korean communists.

Ideological repositioning is urgent, given that the centrist Ahn is reportedly preparing to make a comeback in the near future. It may not be just moderate voters but also discontented lawmakers that will jump ship to join Ahn.


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