The Democratic Party’s struggles to regain unity and public trust in the aftermath of election defeats are leading the main opposition toward more moderate policies and pushing out those with strong factional affiliations from the center of power.
On Saturday the Democratic Party’s main nonmainstream figure Rep. Kim Han-gil was elected as the party’s new chairman, beating Rep. Lee Yong-sup, who had the support of the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction, by more than 20 percentage points.
In Saturday’s election, Kim received 61.7 percent of the votes while Lee Yong-sup gained 38.3 percent.
Along with the new chairman, none of the four new members of the supreme council ― Reps. Shin Kyoung-min, Cho Kyoung-tae, Yang Seoung-jo and Woo Won-shik ― belong to the pro-Roh faction or have their political bases in the liberal stronghold of the Jeolla provinces.
The pro-Roh faction, which has dominated not only the main opposition but the overall progressive bloc in recent years, has been blamed for last year’s election defeat.
In the process of assigning blame, the rift between different factions within the party has deepened, and key pro-Roh figures including former member of the supreme council Moon Sung-keun have left the party.
“It looks like the party is moving toward the center, which is the right way to go for the party to survive. I think Kim Han-gil will have sufficient power to keep the party on its current course,” professor Yang Seung-ham of Yonsei University said, citing the large difference between the number of votes Kim and Lee Yong-sup gained in the leadership election.
Yang, however, expressed caution regarding assessments that Kim’s election is a sign of factionalism being brought down, which is one of the new chairman’s main objectives.
“This does not mean that the pro-Roh faction has collapsed. The 386 generation, which is populous and holds influential positions in the party, they will not so easily dissipate,” Yang said.
The 386 generation refers to those born in the 1960s, who led student and democracy movements during the 1980s.
“The pro-Roh faction is taking a backseat for now, taking responsibility for losing the presidential election. But I think there will continue to be a divide between factions.”
At Saturday’s convention, the party also announced its new name, dropping the word “united.”
The change is thought to be part of the plans to become more moderate.
The main opposition assumed the name Democratic United Party in December 2011 when the Democratic Party merged with minor opposition Citizens Unity Party.
Although unsuccessful, the main opposition had planned for the multilateral merger to include other opposition parties including the defunct Democratic Labor Party.
The Democratic Labor Party has since been recreated as the Unified Progressive Party. The UPP’s far-left ideologies and its leader Lee Jung-hee’s vehement attacks against President Park Geun-hye are considered to have contributed to shifting moderate voters against the progressive bloc.
Along with its name, the main opposition has also modified the party doctrine.
Despite the criticism that the new doctrine is contradictory to progressive ideals, the changes are thought to be part of the party’s efforts to renew itself and to bring in moderate voters into its supporter base.
The new doctrine designates North Korea’s nuclear ambitions as a threat against peace on the Korean Peninsula, and calls for the party to pay more attention to North Koreans’ human rights.
Along with the national security-related clauses, the new doctrine is worded to be more business friendly.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org