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Make way for young conservatives

June 23,2018
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Choi Sang-yeon
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

In “Story of the Crusades,” Nanami Shiono, a Japanese expert in Italian history, observed that talented people seemed to be concentrated in one group during certain periods in time. Eventually, though, a rival group would produce equally talented people, she wrote.

Shiono used the example of Muslim leaders who emerged after the First Crusade. There was no clear answer to why talent couldn’t appear in two sides at the same time. She ambiguously concluded that it might be the consideration of gods that humans must know their hominal limits or it might be the irrationality of history.

Her argument perfectly describes Korean politics today. The conservatives collapsed because they lack talented politicians. The liberals’ competitive politicians have all joined the National Assembly organically, but the main opposition party selected only loyalists, not leaders, through a series of nomination processes that favored allies of former President Park Geun-hye. The talented conservatives who were not in the National Assembly remained bystanders.

The latest election results clearly showed the lack of talented politicians on the right. There seemed to be no conservative leaders who could repair their parties. The Liberty Korea Party and Bareunmirae Party have increasingly argued that fresh faces from the outside should lead them, since such leaders still exist in the country. The emergence of young leaders is, in fact, a global trend. It is the fastest, strongest and surest way to attract voters.

In the early 1970s, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung argued that the opposition should be led by politicians in their 40s, saving the liberals from the verge of extinction. The problem, though, is whether conservative parties can even find new faces. The possibility seems low. The appearance of a new force means the exit of an old one. But in Korea’s political history, old politicians continue to linger and participate in consolation matches.

The Uri Party’s convention to elect a new leader on Feb. 18, 2006, is an example of that. After losing its majority in the National Assembly, the party promoted the idea of creating a new leadership with politicians in their 40s. But the only thing they could stress was that they were young. They continued to rely on old political strategies like forming coalitions. Of course, no one asked for responsibility, and no one took responsibility. Three months later, it suffered another crushing defeat in the local election and then the presidential election.

What happened? It was because the party reform was no more than blaming each other. The situation was very different from what happened 10 years later, when an emergency council under the lead of Kim Chong-in purged some Roh Moo-hyun loyalists in the Democratic Party and led the party’s legislative campaigns.

The current situation of the Liberty Korea Party — where Park loyalists and others are still fighting while promoting the idea of finding new leadership with politicians in their 40s — is similar to that of the Uri Party 10 years ago. Even if a pragmatic conservative in his or her 40s is recruited as an interim leader, the leadership, which will be in power until the fall at the latest, won’t have any nominating power. It will follow in the footsteps of In Myung-jin’s acting leadership, which failed to make true purges. It’s no wonder that establishment conservatives believe they can just wait for another opportunity.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone stressed that consistency and trends are the essence of conservatism. It means conservatives must maintain consistent principles, but they must be updated when necessary. Edmund Burke also said conservative reforms should preserve.

The opposition parties of the 1970s did just that, as well as leaders in their 40s from around the world. They changed their political philosophies and values radically, and the changes empowered their arguments to overcome the barriers of the existing establishment. The people supported their ideas to change thoughts and attitudes.

I hope the opposition parties’ arguments to recruit new leaders in their 40s and 50s will win more support. The political environment should change to allow young leaders to implement bolder changes. They should agree to allow a purge.

The politics of the old must change. The Roh loyalists’ one-time show of reform cost them the presidency for 10 years. The Liberty Korea Party’s position is no different. It must know that the Republicans’ lost two decades in the United States was not someone else’s business.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 22, Page 30