The political hostility that peaked during the recent local elections is heating up again over President Park Geun-hye’s nomination of a conservative former journalist as prime minister and the parliamentary probe into the Sewol ferry disaster.
In the eyes of many Koreans who are accustomed to extreme partisan fights, the current standoff between the conservative ruling camp and the progressive opposition is nothing new. They are simply inured to politicians who believe that politics is about fighting, not about cooperation, reconciliation or compromise.
After the June 4 local elections, however, some signs have emerged that the bad tradition may change, albeit not on such a grand scale as to talk about a coalition or other forms of high-level political collaboration.
The first sign came from Jejudo Governor-elect Won Hee-ryong of the Saeruri Party, who appointed his election rival, Shin Koo-beom of the main opposition party, as head of his transition team. It is the first time that a local election winner has brought in his or her former rival as the transition chief.
In Gyeonggi Province, Governor-elect Nam Kyung-pil came forward with the rare idea of giving the post of vice governor for “social integration” to the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy. Nam went on to establish a policy consultation mechanism with the opposition Thursday.
Similar talk of cooperation between rival parties is also going on in Busan and Daejeon, where the mayors-elect suggested meetings with their former rival candidates.
Skeptics downplay these moves as no more than “political gestures,” but in view of the fact that Korean politics has rarely seen such initiatives, they should be taken as a source of hope.
Along with these cooperative initiatives by local governments came a less politically significant, yet symbolic developments at the central level, involving President Park Geun-hye and the NPAD.
The NPAD, which had rejected any such past offer from Cheong Wa Dae, has accepted an invitation from the presidential office to pick one of its lawmakers to join Park’s planned trip to three Central Asian countries from June 16-21.
Under the agreement, Rep. Chun Soon-ok will travel with the presidential entourage. This deserves attention because the lawmaker is the sister of a legendary labor activist, Chun Tae-il, whose suicide in 1970 ignited labor activism that had been suppressed under the iron-fisted rule of late leader Park Chung-hee, the father of the incumbent president.
Some say that the upcoming trip represents a reconciliation between the Parks and the Chuns. It is hoped that such a reconciliatory and cooperative mood will permeate the entire political community.