Korean voters last week saw the rare scene of a main opposition party leader visiting Cheong Wa Dae without an appointment to ask for talks with the president.
Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, cochairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, filled out a request for a meeting with President Park Geun-hye, which he said was needed to discuss pending political issues, including a controversial system of nominating local election candidates. Received by a senior political affairs secretary to Park in a visitor’s room, Ahn hoped to get a reply from the president by Monday.
With the next local elections less than two months away, the issue of the nomination system has become a bone of contention not only between the rival parties but also within the NPAD, which was launched last month through the merger of Ahn’s followers and the liberal opposition Democratic Party.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Park from the conservative ruling Saenuri Party and her contender from the DP, Rep. Moon Jae-in, pledged to scrap the party-administered nomination system that has been denounced for corrupt links between aspirant candidates and party executives.
The ruling party, however, has recently backpedaled on the issue, saying it would instead adopt a bottom-up nomination system involving rank-and-file party members and the public. On the other side, Ahn and the DP leadership put the abolition of party nominations of candidates for lower-level administration chiefs and councilors as a major reason for their decision to join forces.
Ahn’s sudden visit to the presidential office was certainly out of tune with the proper courtesy for top national leaders. As ruling party officials criticized, it may also be seen as a move to highlight Park’s uncommunicative attitude and move public attention away from the simmering dispute within the opposition party over whether or not to nominate candidates.
But President Park and the Saenuri Party need to show more sincerity toward talks with the opposition leader, though it is not in their cards to abolish the current system. It has only strengthened the impression of the ruling bloc becoming arrogant that it has repeatedly ignored Ahn’s proposals and belittled him as a political novice.
Some NPAD members claim that their party should boycott the local elections set for June 4 if the ruling party insists on fielding candidates under its banner. But this option would be politically unwise, displeasing voters with its irresponsible attitude as the largest opposition party. Ahn and Rep. Kim Han-gil, the other coleader, may be able to collect opinions from all party members to find a way out of their position.
As suggested by some commentators, it may also be a realistic compromise for the main parties to agree on detailed terms for discarding the party-administered nomination in the local elections to be held four years later, while conducting the June polls under the current system.