The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy on Sunday picked Rep. Moon Jae-in, former confidant of the late former president Roh Moo-hyun, as its new chairman at the party convention in Seoul.
Rep. Moon, who lost to President Park Geun-hye in the 2012 presidential race, defeated Rep. Park Jie-won in a close contest by winning 45.3 percent of the final count. Rep. Park won 41.8 percent of the votes. More than 71 percent of the party’s 15,019 delegates participated in Sunday’s vote.
Reps. Joo Seung-yong, Jun Byung-hun, Jung Cheong-rae, Oh Young-sik and You Seung-hee were elected to the party’s supreme council. Moon and his council will serve a two-year term and oversee the party during next year’s parliamentary elections.
“Change begins now. We will move forward now,” Moon said. “I will start an all-out war against the Park Geun-hye administration if (it keeps) destroying democracy, and the middle-class economy.”
For Moon and his council members, victory brings on tough challenges ranging from controversial policy debates with the governing Saenuri Party to reknitting a party wracked by factionalism and worryingly low public ratings.
If Moon can produce results though, he might have another shot at the presidency in 2017, some analysts say.
Proposed reforms to the pension for retired civil servants and revisions to the Constitution that will diminish the president’s grip over domestic politics have been the policy hot potatoes dividing politicians on party lines.
President Park and key members of her Saenuri Party have supported reforming the pension for retired officials, saying the funds have wreaked havoc on public coffers. But they oppose rewriting the Constitution, saying it would create partisan fights detrimental to implementing other reforms.
They have cited in-house tallies that assert the pension will create additional debts of 18 trillion won ($16.4 billion) by 2020 if reforms are not implemented.
The NPAD, on the other hand, has failed to come up with a unified voice. It has also failed to offer the nation any specific alternative to the Saenuri Party’s position on the two issues.
The main opposition has merely been able to compel the Saenuri Party to form a parliamentary panel for debating the pension reforms, after public officials’ unions, the main beneficiaries of the pension and a key political base to the NPAD, protested the Park administration’s reform plans.
The opposition has also come up empty on constitutional changes, although some NPAD lawmakers have floated suggestions to transfer the president’s authority over nominating Cabinet members to a parliament-elected prime minister.
Opposition supporters have hoped this year’s convention would raise the party’s struggling public ratings and unite its many factions before the 2016 general elections. But the race has been marred by emotional verbal fighting that has only worsened factionalism, critics said.
The race was viewed as a fight between the leaders of the party’s main factions from the start.
Analysts viewed Moon, the opposition’s 2012 presidential hopeful, as the representative of the so-called pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction, named after admirers of the late president. Park was seen as the leader of the non-Rohs, an inclusive camp encompassing those not for the pro-Rohs.
Lee was considered the leader of the 486 faction, a group composed of former student activists that led street protest against the military dictatorships of the 1980s.
NPAD supporters had hoped though that the three candidates would compete by engaging in productive policy debates to offer alternatives to President Park Geun-hye’s so-called “welfare without taxation” policy.
But the campaign trail was tattered with emotional finger-pointing that showed Park and Moon blaming each other for the party’s many woes.
The main opposition’s factionalist woes worsened when former presidential candidate Chung Dong-young exited the party last month, saying the NPAD had tilted “too much toward the right.”
With Moon having won the leadership by only a small margin, his task to unite the party will be that much more challenging. Park supporters, based mainly in the Jeolla region, have even threatened to exit the party en masse, although that chance appears slim according to analysts.
Over one year remains until the 2016 April general elections, but public rating lags behind the governing party, showing Moon has much catching up to do.
A Gallup Korea poll conducted from Feb. 3-5 on 1,003 adults nationwide showed the main opposition party having a 24 percent public rating and the Saenuri Party enjoying a 41 percent standing. The survey had a 95 percent confidence level and a 3.1 percent margin of error.
A Realmeter survey taken in late January, showed the NPAD’s 27.5 percent rating lagging behind the governing party’s 35.9 percent. That survey had 2,500 adult respondents nationwide and a 95 percent confidence level on a 2 percent margin of error.
The numbers come despite falling ratings for an embattled President Park. Her ratings are near the 30 percent mark, according to the same polls.
By Jeong Hunny (email@example.com