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Conservatives actually triumph

June 19,2018
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Members of the Liberty Korea Party on Friday kneel to apologize for disappointing their voters after the opposition’s crushing defeat in the June 13 local elections. [YONHAP]
Lee Ha-kyung
*The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Many say that the conservative movement has crumbled since the crushing defeat in the June 13 local elections. I do not agree. The Liberty Korea Party (LKP) was not conservative and it never spoke for the conservatives. It just used loquacious rhetoric to protect the vested rights of the establishment while turning a blind eye to the remarkable changes in the world with its cold-war perspective. Since there was no genuine conservative party in Korea, it is insulting to say that the conservatives suffered a defeat. It is more appropriate to say that smart conservative voters delivered their verdict on these stinky reactionaries.

The LKP pursued their usual brand of politics on the unlevel playing field. They cared nothing about productive discussions or policies demanded by the times and were bent on maintaining as much power as they possible could. As its outgoing Chairman Hong Joon-pyo poignantly said, members who regarded the profession of lawmaker as a part-time job after serving as top government officials — and those who only dream about traveling the world on tax money — destroyed politics by keeping to business as usual.

When they felt weak in their logic, they attacked rivals by labeling them “pro-Pyongyang commies.” They had no reason to participate in fierce debates over real world problems. This was how “gangster politics” began — by threatening others to maximize one’s own profits. Even Hong once called the PyeongChang Winter Olympics the “Pyongyang Winter Olympics” and the inter-Korean summit a “show of fake peace.”

When a British journalist asked Kim Moon-soo — who ran for Seoul mayor on the LKP ticket — what would happen if the U.S. Forces Korea were withdrawn after a peace treaty is signed, Kim said, “Korea will be communized and I will be executed by a firing squad.” He was faithful to his Cold War-era logic, but the journalist responded with surprise.

The LKP insulted the efforts to realize denuclearization of North Korea and a peace regime. Although it lamented that voters turned against the party, it went too far in seeking forgiveness. It should instead reexamine its outdated politics of inaction.

There are many frames to explain the rapidly changing situation on the Korean Peninsula. Some are optimistic and some pessimistic. Opinion is split even in the United States. During the Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, an exchange between a “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” and a “complete, verifiable and irreversible guarantee” of regime security was not stipulated, despite anticipation that it would. Although the United States conceded many things, the North didn’t. The LKP is standing at the center of such pessimism. Their views have some basis and is an important perspective.

At the same time, it is important that the leaders of the United States and North Korea sat down face to face and discussed peace, not war. They expressed mutual trust and are on the threshold of establishing a hotline — instead of threatening each other with nuclear buttons. A historic transition toward denuclearization and a peace regime has begun. It is appropriate to enhance the probability of peace with an unemotional and open-minded attitude, with full preparation for all possibilities and with imagination.

Korean peninsular affairs are unfolding in a complicated way as various countries with different interests are involved. No one person or group can claim a perfect outlook. René Descartes, the father of modern philosophy and a gifted scientist, is great because he strongly doubted his sensory experiences. He even wondered if the world he is feeling is real or a dream. You have to observe the world around you and listen to different opinions till the end to see the whole picture.

When you trust something you only want to trust, you will face a monster. The LKP’s acting chairman, Kim Sung-tae, said, “The people will increasingly turn away from us if we retain our reactionary, cold-war perspective.” That thought must be translated into collective action of the party to restore its lost conservative values.

In the 19th century, the British Conservative Party was ridiculed as a stupid party. “The palace is not safe when the cottage is not happy,” Benjamin Disraeli said at the time, urging the party to resolve income inequalities. The aristocratic Conservative Party became the longest-serving political party in the world through reform, said Park Ji-hang, a professor of western history at Seoul National University. Her remarks are convincing.

The true victor of the latest elections is conservative voters. They made a pragmatic choice. Although they empowered the Democratic Party for now, they will abandon it if it fails to meet their expectations.

Anticipation is high that the victory of the conservative voters — who taught a stern lesson to the reactionary politicians — will overhaul an outmoded political arena.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 18, Page 31