Kim Han-gil, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, has pledged to drastically reform the unpopular party to increase its chances in the June 4 local elections.
With less than five months left before polls open, the party is beginning to feel the threat posed by independent Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, who has been pushing to set up his own party to change the current political framework.
Although Ahn’s party has yet to be created, it has maintained a lead over the DP in opinion polls. Fueling the main opposition party’s concern is the dwindling possibility that the opposition parties will form a united front in the local elections, as they did in the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012.
Ahn has made it clear that his party would not seek an electoral alliance with other opposition parties, as the public disapproves of the practice.
Kim’s press conference reflected his sense of crisis. He described the DP as a party that “stands on the brink of a steep cliff.” What has driven the party, which holds 42 percent of the Assembly seats, to such a crisis? According to Kim, it is the party’s failure to reform itself after successive election defeats in 2012.
The DP leader said the party deviated from the path of self-reform due to the allegations that the National Intelligence Service had meddled in the presidential election.
He admitted that the party tended to focus on the NIS scandal too much, while ignoring the pressing need to recreate itself. So he pledged to pursue two aims ― to pursue self-reform while at the same time pressing for a thorough investigation of the NIS scandal through the appointment of a special counsel.
As part of reform efforts, Kim declared that the DP would take the lead in restoring dignity to politics. He said DP politicians would stop making defamatory remarks toward critics and ruling party members. He also said the DP would make politics more efficient by responding swiftly to the demands of the public.
Kim also pledged to establish a new policy on North Korea to restore people’s confidence in the DP’s ability to govern. This means the party’s departure from the now discredited “sunshine policy,” a simple appeasement approach toward the North instituted by former President Kim Dae-jung.
The soft-spoken party leader also promised many other reform measures. Now voters will keep close track of whether the party carries out Kim’s pledges. The party will be able to boost its falling public standing, but only if its members help make politics more civil by showing respect to its opponents and avoiding name-calling.