It is not surprising to see liberal and progressive opposition parties turn their backs on conglomerates. Traditionally, they have supported small businesses and labor unions while criticizing the business practices of large corporations.
To their chagrin, however, the ruling Saenuri Party is withdrawing what has long been seen to be their unwavering support for big businesses. The party has joined the opposition forces in demanding greater economic democratization ahead of the December presidential election.
Economic democratization is a constitutional term denoting efforts to promote balanced growth, economic stability and equitable income distribution and prevent market domination by a select few and their abuse of economic power. Simply put, it means greater regulations on large corporations.
A sobering reminder of this change came when the Korea Employers Federation called on the Saenuri Party last week to reorganize the Environment and Labor Committee of the National Assembly to yank its control from the opposition. The KEF demanded the ruling party put the committee under its control and help thwart pro-labor bills from passing the committee.
The Saenuri Party turned down the request, saying that it could not put all standing committees under its control as it maintains a majority with a slim margin. A disappointed KEF accused the party of abandoning its “reasonable labor policy.”
For big businesses, the souring of relations with the party over the proposed committee reorganization may be nothing but a foretaste of what is yet to come. When she declared her bid for the presidency last week, Rep. Park Geun-hye, the party’s indisputable frontrunner in the race for nomination, counted economic democratization as one of the core policies she would pursue. She said her administration would strictly enforce the law to ensure that “business enterprises wielding great influence will carry out all their social responsibilities.”
It is not the opposition parties alone that take issue with the unwarranted control of business conglomerates by a select few families that own pitifully small shares of their stocks. The ruling party also finds fault with those families that exercise more voting rights than they deserve.
Business conglomerates and the families controlling them will have to adapt to the forthcoming changes in policy and try to win the hearts and minds of the people by faithfully carrying out their social responsibilities. Otherwise, they will be in for a rude awakening whichever party wins the presidential election in December.