Seen from a critical viewpoint, the merger between the main opposition Democratic Party and a group led by software mogul-turned-lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo may be nothing but a political maneuver aimed at winning the June local elections and ultimately the presidential vote in 2018. Still, a more positive meaning to this move could be building an opposition force that can become a more constructive and effective alternative to the conservative ruling party.
A statement adopted at the convention of founding delegates of the merged party last Sunday declared it would “embrace both reflective progressivism and rational conservatism.” This declaration epitomizes the wish shared by moderate members of the liberal opposition party and Ahn that taking the center of the political spectrum would enable them to retake power from the conservative camp.
But it is yet to be seen whether different factions in the merged party, which is set to be formally inaugurated next week, will agree on common values and turn them into concrete policies that appeal to voters. Recent disputes in the process of drawing up the platform and policies of the new party show the difficulty of transforming symbolic rhetoric into political reality.
What has emerged as the focal point of discord is whether the platform should refer to inheriting the spirit and agreements of the inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007. Joint declarations from the talks that late liberal President Kim Dae-jung and his successor Roh Moo-hyun had with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il have served as guidelines to the opposition party’s accommodating policy toward North Korea.
Some controversial agreements made at the two summits have left the party vulnerable in arguing with their conservative opponents and gaining support from moderate voters over how to manage inter-Korean relations.
The declaration from the 2000 summit noted that unification formulas set by the two Koreas had similarities and the statement adopted at the 2007 summit included implausible promises of massive aid to the North and a proposal seen as conducive to Pyongyang’s attempt to nullify the maritime border in the West Sea.
Ahn seemed to back off Wednesday from his earlier call not to specify the two documents in the new party’s platform in the face of strong repercussions from DP members. Citing his ambiguous words, however, some observers see the possibility that Ahn, who describes himself as a liberal on economic matters and a conservative on security issues, may not discard his basic stance.
In terms of electoral considerations, it is not wise to stick to principles out of touch with a larger bloc of voters. The new party’s platform will be a testament to how sincere and flexible it can be in order to build a more credible alternative force.