The Minjoo Party of Korea, the country’s main opposition party, looks like a man who is still carrying a torch for his estranged lover. Moon Jae-in, the party’s former leader, was one of its most recent members to express his abiding love for the People’s Party.
Moon said that alliance between the two parties was “absolutely necessary” if they were to reap good results in the April 13 general election. Kim Hong-gul, a son of the late president Kim Dae-jung, joined Moon and other Minjoo members in calling for unified opposition candidacies. They argue that it is the only way to keep the ruling Saenuri Party from gaining a big win in the quadrennial poll.
It is not hard to see what is making the Minjoo Party so desperate. Many Minjoo candidates are struggling because the People’s Party – created by Ahn Cheol-soo and other politicians who broke away from the party – is peeling voters away from the main liberal party.
In fact, in at least 178 of the 253 constituencies across the country, there are multiple opposition candidates competing against the ruling party candidate. The situation is more serious – from the standpoint of the Minjoo – in the greater Seoul area, which is regarded as “no man’s land.”
This year, there is more than one opposition candidate in 105 of the 122 constituencies in the area, which includes Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, and is regarded as neutral territory for the ruling and main opposition parties, which have their support bases in the southeast and southwest, respectively.
The last general election in 2012 showed the strategic importance of the greater Seoul area, where the ruling party and the Minjoo Party -- then called the Democratic United Party -- waged a close battle. The fate of the winners and runners-up was determined by margins of less than 5 percentage points in about 30 constituencies.
The opposition camp’s victory in the greater Seoul area should be attributed to the alliance between the Democratic United Party and the Unified Progressive Party: The DUP won 65 and the now-defunct UPP four seats, compared with 43 seats that went to the ruling party candidates.
Such a feat is a long shot this time, as candidates from the People’s Party and the Justice Party, the biggest progressive group, are attracting liberal voters who would otherwise line up for the Minjoo.
Yet the Minjoo’s repeated calls to unify opposition candidates is preposterous, all the more considering that it is to blame for the division of the opposition camp. It is senseless that the party is courting those who left it only a little while ago, solely to boost the election chances of its candidates.
So far, People’s Party joint leader Ahn seems not to be swayed by the Minjoo’s pitch -- and more importantly by those within his own party who support it. Ahn is right to argue that fostering an independent, healthy third party is more important than getting the opposition camp a few more parliamentary seats.
What worries us is that there still is a possibility that some candidates may defy the party’s official ban on unifying candidates. It is not rare for candidates to make closed-door, under-the-table deals, in which candidates withdraw from a race in return for money or the promise of favors.
The Minjoo Party should stop pining after the unrequited love of the People’s Party in hopes of an alliance and instead try to tell the people why they need to vote for its candidates. The party may lose some parliamentary seats, but it will certainly benefit Korean politics in the long run.