The agreement between the Democratic Party and Ahn Cheol-soo’s political group to merge and create a new party is shaking Korean politics. The agreement should be good news for opponents of President Park Geun-hye and her ruling Saenuri Party. The ruling camp now faces an uphill battle against a giant single opposition party in the June local elections.
A verdict on the merger of the two opposition forces will be made by the voters in the upcoming polls. But viewed objectively, the unexpected union of the two groups raises some questions.
The negotiations and the consequent agreement were made secretly by DP leader Kim Han-gil, Ahn and small groups of their aides. Even the floor leader of the DP was kept in the dark. Both Kim and Ahn are almost bound to encounter protests from within their camps.
A bigger problem is that the union is another case of political expedience and a marriage of convenience, which are all too familiar in Korean politics. Many expected the DP and Ahn to form some sort of alliance for the June elections. Few, however, foresaw the possibility of a complete merger. The two groups discarded their own raison d’etres for the sake of winning the forthcoming elections.
The DP has been struggling with stagnant approval ratings, while the popularity of Ahn’s group, which was once twice as high as the DP’s, has been declining rapidly. Ahn, who said his group would field candidates for all 16 of the largest mayoral and gubernatorial races across the country, has had difficulty recruiting prospective candidates.
It is also disturbing to find that Ahn, who said he would become a crusader for “new politics,” has turned out to be little different from those he criticized for engaging in “outdated politics” and sticking to vested interests. Not long ago and more than a few times, Ahn criticized the DP for being part of the old political framework.
His harshest critics now say that his “experiment with new politics” has fallen apart. They recall that Ahn vowed to create “a political party that can last 100 years.” He simply walked into the comfort of an established party that he had for a long time said should be replaced by fresh political forces.