The main opposition party leader Rep. Moon Jae-in visited a military unit near the border with North Korea on Wednesday, in an apparent bid to erase public perceptions of his party as being Pyongyang sympathizers.
Wearing a marine’s uniform, complete with protective headgear and camouflage face paint, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy chairman visited the 2nd Marine Division as rival parties geared up for next month’s by-elections.
Four districts, three of which had been held by a now-disbanded minor leftist party, will be contested in the April polls.
New Politics Alliance for Democracy leader Rep. Moon Jae-in takes a ride on an amphibious armored vehicle during his visit to the 2nd Marine Division at Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Moon timed his visit to the outpost to coincide with the eve of the fifth anniversary of the North’s 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan, an incident that the North has repeatedly denied culpability for.
His visit also comes after his party reissued statements criticizing the North’s 2010 attack, seemingly to rebuke the ruling Saenuri Party’s attempt to hold the NPAD accountable for allegedly supporting pro-North forces. This comes in light of the attack on U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Mark Lippert earlier this month by a leftist extremist.
“The Cheonan sinking was the result of a failed national security policy led by the Saenuri Party,” Moon said during his stop at the marine base near the West Sea.
“Instead of using the incident to improve the nation’s defense posture, the Saenuri Party used it to frame others as pro-North figures.”
Many voters view the NPAD as being too soft on Pyongyang. The party is also the political offspring of past administrations that gave millions in aid to the North, money that conservatives in the South suspect eventually helped the North pay for its nuclear program.
With next month’s by-elections seen as an opportunity for Moon to prove his leadership and restore his party’s approval ratings, the NPAD has been intensifying moves to clean up its reputation.
“Public opinion here has been conservative in terms of the nation’s North Korea policy, and liberal in terms of its domestic economic policies,” said Yun Seong-yi, professor of Korean politics at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.
“The NPAD must pursue a centrist agenda on national security to increase its political support base.”
But another expert asserted that whether the NPAD succeeded in rallying more voters to its cause would depend on something more than the party’s own efforts.
“Political positioning is not accomplished by yourself,” said Choi Young-jin, professor of political thinking at Chung-Ang University in Seoul.
“There must be other extremist parties on the spectrum for a party to be considered as a more moderate and centrist group.
“There are far-left and far-right parties in Japan and Europe that allow moderate parties to successfully position themselves in the center during elections.”
This means the NPAD needs the more left-leaning minor opposition Justice Party to expand its public standing and be considered a centrist political group, Choi said.
The far-left Unified Progressive Party was dissolved late last year by the Constitutional Court, which cited risk to public security as it supported North Korean political philosophies.
The NPAD’s efforts to boost its national security credentials also continued with its criticism of the Saenuri Party.
The party released a statement Wednesday against Saenuri chair Rep. Kim Moo-sung for his comments Tuesday, which virtually admitted that the North was a nuclear state.
Kim had cited the North’s three nuclear tests as grounds for it to be considered a nuclear power in a speech at Busan. Foreign policy experts have cautioned that such comments could support the North’s ambitions of gaining unofficial international approval for its nuclear program, overthrowing decades of efforts to denuclearize the hermit state.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)