Gubernatorial and other local elections are scheduled for June. But the chances are very slim that the main opposition Democratic Party will defeat a party still in the making, never mind the ruling Saenuri Party. Some opposition lawmakers publicly acknowledge this.
Among the lawmakers is Rep. Park Jie-won, a former floor leader of the Democratic Party. He says he believes that a party now in the process of being created by Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent, will surpass the ruling party in approval ratings as well as the main opposition party.
Ahn’s party is ahead of the Democratic Party in approval ratings in the main opposition party’s own backyard ― the Jeolla provinces and the Gwangju metropolis in the southwestern part of the nation. To make matters worse, the incumbent governor of North Jeolla Province, who is affiliated with the Democratic Party, has decided not to pursue reelection.
Held accountable for the party’s fall into disgrace is its leadership, which has failed to pull the party out of defeatism after it lost the presidential election in December 2012. It has lost its sense of direction, permitting itself to be bandied about by the ruling party, which has exercised a virtual monopoly in setting the agenda.
Rep. Moon Jae-in, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, acknowledges that the party has failed to convince its supporters that it will win the next presidential election by offering viable alternatives to the policies pursued by the Park Geun-hye administration and the ruling party. As he notes, many disillusioned supporters have turned their backs on the party.
While the main opposition party dithers, Ahn’s party is surging ahead in opinion polls. According to one of the latest surveys, 40.6 percent of the respondents approved of the Saenuri Party, which was followed by Ahn’s party with 30.3 percent. The distant third was the Democratic Party, whose approval rating was at a mere 12.7 percent. The Democratic Party admits these findings were little different from those of a survey it conducted for its own use.
Does the party feel a sense of crisis? If it does, it shows few signs of acute distress. Instead, its members are engaged in factional struggles. The rift runs deep between a group of party members that had allegiance to the late President Roh Moo-hyun and the rest of the party.
As the local elections approach, the factions will have to put party unity before their own interests, as demanded by Rep. Kim Han-gil, leader of the party. The party will be pushed out into the fringes if it fails to restore teamwork and push for reform ahead of the elections.