Lee Hae-chan, the new leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea as of Saturday, vowed upon his election to help the Moon Jae-in administration overcome the economic crisis and gear up for the next election.
His promise to prioritize people’s livelihoods and hold nonpartisan meetings to come up with solutions is a welcome step. Wherever he goes, he will meet people facing economic difficulties and people with serious concerns about the national economy.
Lee must talk with businesses, workers, government officials and civic groups, but he must also work with his opponents from rival parties. Because major government policies require approval in the National Assembly, cross-party cooperation is a must.
However, considering the hard line that Lee has taken against conservatism, conflict seems more likely than cooperation. He recently blamed the nation’s economic hardships on the previous two administrations. However, the present problems are consequences of policies drawn up by the Moon administration.
Pointing a finger at someone else in this manner means that cooperation will go up in smoke and people’s lives will be put on the back burner. The matter will become a political football.
Lee is known for being stubborn and self-righteous. Nonpartisan collaboration is only possible when parties make concessions and acknowledge each other’s positions. He must stop dismissing the conservative right as “reactionary” and exercise flexible leadership. Only if he casts off his self-righteousness can he realize a future of dialogue and compromise.
Moon’s approval rating recently flopped to the mid-50s, and that of the Democratic Party plunged to about 40 percent.
This is a sign of disaffection with the Moon government. The grievance that survey respondents cite most often is the government’s inability to resolve the nation’s worsening economic problems. Warning lights continue to flash, spelling out “employment” and “income inequality.” Experts have taken issue with the drastic increase in the minimum wage and the prospects of a shorter workweek, but Cheong Wa Dae does not listen to criticism. In his video message at the party’s national convention, Moon said, “We are going in the right policy direction.”
In his acceptance speech, Lee pledged to support Moon’s economic policies, emphasizing “income-led growth, innovation and economic fairness.”
This view will hardly lift his party’s approval ratings. It is important to hold nonpartisan meetings on the economy, but the new party chief should be all ears to what people say.
He must relay the people’s concerns accurately to Cheong Wa Dae, and, if necessary, demand a change of policy direction. Conveying only the agreeable responses will blind policymakers to their errors and close an opportunity for change and improvement. Lee must face up to reality and talk straight to the president.
The party leadership under Lee has the right to nominate candidates for the 2020 general election.
The Democratic Party has swept the elections held after the fall of the Park Geun-hye administration, but has been declining in popularity since the local elections in June.
The ruling party, together with the government, should take joint responsibility for tackling economic issues -- including record unemployment and protests by small business owners against the minimum wage hike.
Lee said he would try to form a delegation of lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties to visit North Korea after the summit between South and North Korea in September.
But in view of the sluggish progress of efforts to dismantle the nuclear programs of the North, that idea seems impetuous. Instead, he ought to focus on improving the livelihoods of the people. If this problem is not solved, the party will stand little chance of winning the general elections.
Considering Lee’s vow to make the party strong, the party’s relationship with Cheong Wa Dae during his two-year term may have to undergo some changes.
The previous party leadership left much to be desired in its ties with Cheong Wa Dae. The new leadership must play a more active role in relaying public concerns to Cheong Wa Dae and demanding changes to ineffective policies.