As political parties gear up for the April 13 general election, some negative aspects of Korean politics are rearing their ugly heads.
The already notorious factional strife within parties — between President Park Geun-hye’s loyalists and the “non-Parks” in the ruling party and between those who were close to the late President Roh Moo-hyun and the “non-Rohs” in the main opposition party — are heating up day by day as they brace for a war over candidate nominations.
There are frequent mergers and alliances among parties and many candidates are switching their party affiliations. They chant for noble causes like a legitimate change of government or a new politics, but everyone knows that they are simply looking to improve their chances in the election.
On top of this comes the problem of anachronism, with political parties and their leaders lacking visions for the future, and often engaging in worthless disputes over the past — such as which former president was good or bad.
It is dismaying but understandable why the parties are so focused on bygone days: The parties — especially The Minjoo Party of Korea and the People’s Party — have recently filled their key leadership posts with “men of the past.”
The main opposition Minjoo Party is now headed by Kim Jong-in, a former university professor who was an architect of President Park Geun-hye’s economic policy. The People’s Party, a breakaway group from the Minjoo Party, is headed by Yoon Yeo-joon, who held key posts during the Kim Young-sam administration (1993-1998), and Han Sang-jin, a liberal sociologist.
The three could hardly be called “new faces” befitting their parties’ calls for a politics for the future. Moreover, two of them — Kim and Yoon — have frequently changed their political allegiance: Most recently, Kim was a key adviser to Ahn and Yoon supported Moon during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Han, a sociologist, is relatively new to party politics, but his image too is tied to the past — the era of pro-democracy movements in which he was a leading intellectual.
As they jockey for position ahead of the crucial election, these men of the past, stuck in the old framework of thoughts, don’t have any qualms about bringing up time-old issues for the sake of their political interests.
Han set the stage when he called Syngman Rhee, the first president of the republic, the “founding father.” Obviously he deviated from liberals’ negative view of Rhee in order to reach out to conservative voters.
Apparently considering the supporters of the liberal Minjoo Party, Kim immediately came forward, saying that Rhee destroyed democracy by revising the Constitution to enable him to serve three consecutive presidential terms.
Then Han brought up Kim’s ties to another dictator — former President Chun Doo-hwan: Kim, who served as the health minister during the Roh Tae-woo administration, was a senior member of military government led by Chun and Roh after they seized power in a coup.
Kim offered apologies, probably because Chun is unpopular, especially among people living in southwestern provinces which are the Minjoo’s traditional support base. Kim also visited the April 19 Cemetery, where the victims of the Rhee government’s bloody suppression of a students’ uprising in 1960 are buried.
It is a pity that political leaders who are not even able to draw up an electoral map less than three months before the polls open are caught up in such useless debates. It is truly distressing to think that people whose sights are set on the past will represent us for the coming four years.
Herald Editorial firstname.lastname@example.org
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