Three years on, Roh followers persevere

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 22, 2012 - 19:48
  • Updated : May 22, 2012 - 19:53
Tough challenges ahead to become resilient political force

Three years after the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun, he remains a symbol in Korea’s modern politics, with his followers continuing efforts to carry on his legacy.

Roh’s idealistic progressivism, prioritizing ordinary people, set the tone for the general election, and it appears it will remain that way through the Dec. 19 presidential election, observers said.

But the so-called pro-Roh forces face a tough challenge in attesting themselves as a durable political power throughout and beyond the elections, they said.
An artist’s rendition of the late President Roh Moo-hyun hangs at the back of the stage for an open-air concert at Seoul Plaza on May 19, marking the third anniversary of his death. (Yonhap News)

Namely, former aides of Roh remain dispersed throughout different political groups, while pseudo pro-Roh members are blamed for the excessive factional rivalry within the Democratic United Party.

“The words ‘pro-Roh’ are currently used more as a description of a certain faction,” said politics professor Jung Hae-gu of Sungkonghoe University.

“That is not desirable for pro-Roh forces to further upgrade the views and principles of President Roh into a vision, rather than using them to describe a group of people.”

The so-called pro-Roh group, which had taken a backseat in the 2007 presidential defeat, began to resurface as a substantial political force a year and a half later upon the tragic suicide of Roh on May 23, 2009. Supporters across the nation gathered at the Bongha Village in southeastern Korea to pay condolences while Roh’s former aides gathered on a reinforced political platform.

The drive of pro-Roh members solidified in the June 2 local elections in 2010, when his closest former aides Ahn Hee-jung, Lee Kwang-jae and Kim Doo-kwan won to become the governors of South Chungcheong, Gangwon and South Gyeongsang provinces, respectively. Some 30 other pro-Roh members garnered seats as provincial chiefs and local representatives.

The pro-Roh forces further secured their footing under the Democratic United Party last year upon the integration of opposition forces. Han Myeong-sook, who was a prime minister in the Roh administration, was voted party’s chairwoman in January this year and led the party under the support of former chief of staff Moon Jae-in, former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan and Moon Sung-keun.

Then came the April 11 general elections, for which the candidates scurried to call themselves pro-Roh, emphasizing whatever links they had to the late president, even if it was simply as a “member of the Roh Moo-hyun foundation.”

Local media described the number of pro-Roh winners in the parliamentary race to have reached around 50 in the 19th National Assembly, compared to around 10 in the previous parliament.

But some also pointed out the ambiguity of what constitutes the pro-Roh faction.

“It is quizzical whether the number of pro-Rohs actually increased at the DUP or whether the (number of) people claiming to be pro-Roh surged,” Rhyu Si-min was quoted as saying in YTN radio interview in March.

Rhyu, himself once a core member of the pro-Roh forces, is currently engrossed in a factional debacle at the Unified Progressive Party, which he co-founded by merging his People’s Participatory Party with the other liberal forces last December. The PPP was criticized by the older democratic members as an attempt to divide the pro-Roh forces, and his political status remains a key sticking point.

“It remains to be seen what Rhyu could do to uphold Roh’s political inheritance, but for the time being, he should be occupied with solving the crisis at UPP,” Jung said.

In the meantime, criticisms from the members of the former Democratic Party continued against the pro-Roh faction, in particularly upon the reported alliance between Lee Hae-chan and floor leader Park Jie-won to share the new leadership. Lee is currently vying against seven other contenders in the race for the leadership, which will be in charge of the party’s presidential primaries and campaign.

Observers said the upcoming final votes for the DUP leadership on June 9 will be the first test for the durability of the pro-Roh forces as mainstream.

By Lee Joo-hee (