(EDITORIAL from the Korea Times on Jan. 23)
Third party in Korea
Ahn needs to present clear vision, policy alternatives
A tempest in a teacup, or a typhoon?
As independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo is gearing up to create a new political party, his experiment is drawing keen attention. The first-term lawmaker told reporters in Jeju Tuesday that he would launch his own party in March and field candidates for all 17 municipal and gubernatorial posts up for grabs in the June 4 local elections.
Accusing the existing parties of engaging in the politics of hatred and exclusion, Ahn pledged that his party will look to the future and seek national integration. He stressed the need to make a new paradigm for the era, saying those who achieved the country’s democratization and industrialization should go hand in hand.
Given people’s deep-seated mistrust of the political establishment and desire for new politics, we have no reason to oppose the launch of the new party. Rather, we agree that there should be alternative political forces to put an end to politics that “deceives voters and breaks promises.’’
But political reform is easier said than done. Our political history shows that under the rigorous bipartisan structure, hardly have there been strong third parties. Parties based in Chungcheong provinces have been able to form floor negotiating groups, but most new parties have fizzled out.
It’s without doubt then that Ahn’s success will hinge largely on how well his party performs in the upcoming municipal polls. Yet the outlook does not appear bright, given that the ruling party stands a better chance of winning three-way races amid the split of votes supporting the two opposition parties. In that case, the IT guru-turned-politician may be stigmatized as a main culprit for the opposition’s defeat. That was the case in the local elections in 2006, when the then-opposition Grand National Party, the predecessor of the incumbent ruling Saenuri Party, scored a landslide victory over the divided governing camp.
Of course, Ahn’s new party, which has no specific regional base and ideological inclination, could become an overnight sensation, given the high approval rating for the yet-to-be-created party. A recent Gallup Korea poll showed that Ahn’s party would draw about 31 percent of the voters, compared with 13 percent for the main opposition Democratic Party.
Also, there is a fair chance that Ahn’s envisioned party may make big strides in the local elections by successfully appealing to voters who want bad, deeply-rooted practices in our political arena uprooted.
It’s quite disheartening in this regard that Ahn seems to be in a war of nerves with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon over the Seoul mayoral election. In a nutshell, it’s unrealistic for him to expect concessions from Park. Even more contradictory is that he is seeking Park’s concessions while ruling out an election alliance with the largest opposition party.
To succeed, Ahn needs to drop his unique vagueness on contentious issues and present a clear vision for the country and policy alternatives. It will also be important to recruit untainted new faces.