[ed] Opposition in a quandary

Reform should begin by addressing factional strife

Wednesday’s crushing by-elections defeat is pushing the main opposition party and its leader, Moon Jae-in, to the edge of a cliff. As the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) has suffered losses in a string of by-elections since President Park Geun-hye took office in early 2013, there is derisive skepticism that the party may have forgotten how to win.

It’s true the odds are against the liberal party in by-elections, where voter turnout usually falls short of 40 percent, as voters in their 50s or older ? who are critical of the NPAD ? cast ballots in droves, whereas many younger people abstain. But the opposition party seems in no position to merely complain about this unfavorable political terrain.

Moon, who competed against President Park in the 2012 presidential election, has no one to blame but himself for the defeat. He did little to keep two senior members ? Chun Jung-bae and Chung Dong-young ? from leaving the party, even if it might mean losing the elections.

Moon stubbornly stuck with primaries, arguing that it was necessary to establish principles in choosing candidates. But the result was the selection of weak and problematic candidates.

Also, there were strategic blunders. At first, the NPAD raised issues directly related to people’s livelihoods, but it pleaded with voters to judge the incumbent administration after the eruption of a bribery scandal involving a construction tycoon who committed suicide. Moon also poorly handled the ruling party’s allegations that the businessman received two special pardons during the Roh Moo-hyun administration for which he had twice served as a senior presidential aide.

On Thursday, Moon apologized for his party’s defeats and pledged to start afresh with do-or-die determination. He did not elaborate on if he would retain his post, raising the possibility that he will not resign. Given that he took the helm of the party only three months ago and his exit will hardly resolve the party’s chronic problems, the decision seems right.

The NPAD’s stunning defeats in three electoral districts in Seoul and the metropolitan area remind us how important integration and solidarity are in an election. But this is not to say that the party should seek alliances rashly right before the election only for the sake of victory, as it did previously. Moon was right in this regard to say that, “We will pursue greater integration from a long-term perspective.”

Moon pledged extensive reform and drastic changes to revive his beleaguered party. But people have to wonder how they can trust his promises, given that there have been repeated commitments from the party leadership, to no avail.

Most urgent is to fix the ever-worsening factional strife in the party between loyalists of the late former liberal Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Certainly there will be no future for the party in the 2016 general and 2017 presidential elections unless the problem is addressed. The NPAD’s innovation should begin by encouraging party members to unite despite their factions.

SOURCE: The Korea Times

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