Wednesday’s launch of a merged opposition party was designed to enhance its image as a political group that gives due credit to those who have contributed to economic progress and emphasizes national security.
Among the invitees were war veterans and a group of senior citizens who worked as miners or nurses in West Germany in the 1960s and construction workers in the Middle East in the 1970s. During the ceremony, a moment of silence was observed in memory of the 46 South Korean sailors killed when their patrol ship was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine four years ago on the same day.
These scenes were apparently conceived and suggested by entrepreneur-turned-lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo, who decided early this month to merge his fledgling political group with the main opposition Democratic Party. He also prodded the liberal opposition party into agreeing that the new party’s platform would mention the inheritance of the accords that previous conservative governments had signed with Pyongyang decades ago.
The DP leadership’s acceptance of Ahn’s proposals reflected their realistic consideration that moving to the center of the political spectrum was necessary to secure support from moderate voters, who will hold the key to the results of the June local elections and the next presidential vote in 2017. The liberal opposition had been increasingly alienated from the public sentiment over the issues of strengthening security and reinvigorating the economy.
The new party should now turn its rhetoric into concrete actions to establish itself as a credible alternative to the conservative ruling Saenuri Party.
Opinion polls showed its approval rating fell by 2.4 percentage points over the past week to 34.8 percent, while the figure for the ruling party rose by 1.4 percentage points to 49.6 percent.
Party officials seem to hope that it will expand voter support through efforts to realize what they call “new politics.” In a related move, its co-leaders, Ahn and former DP chairman Rep. Kim Han-gil, are to visit a workplace in Seoul on Thursday as their first official appointment.
But some critics raise the possibility that the merged party will become embroiled in internal discord over the selection of candidates to run in the upcoming local elections. The moderate leadership may also face growing resistance from a group of hardliners, who had kept the DP in confrontation mode with the ruling bloc, as they try to shift to a more practical stance.
Ahn and Kim are tasked with overcoming these possible obstacles to fulfill their pledge to lead the merged party, which occupies 130 seats at the 300-member parliament, into a political force that can give hope and trust to people disenchanted with “old politics.”
It has become the 173rd party to register with the National Election Commission since 1963. The large number of parties, most of which have been disbanded, shows that short-sighted political calculations have been placed ahead of fundamental values and purposes in Korean politics. It is hoped that the new party will make a valuable difference.