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Conservatives in disarray

Jan 19,2019
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Opposition Liberty Korea Party floor leader Na Kyung-won makes a speech Friday before convening a meeting at the National Assembly. [OH JONG-TAEK]
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Choi Sang-yeon
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Many make wishes upon a rising sun on New Year’s Day or a full moon. But there is an old belief that your wish will come true when you repeat it three times upon seeing a shooting star before it disappears. I made many attempts, but my wish has never come true. That’s probably because the star fell too quickly before I repeated my wish three times. Then I was told that the beauty of the practice is that short period, as one must keep the wish in mind all the time to repeat it without any reservation. I have witnessed a politician who was making a wish in such a manner.

Over a year ago, I watched the sunrise on New Year’s Day with Ahn Cheol-soo, then head of the People’s Party. I was investigating the party’s moves ahead of its planned merger with the Bareun Party. As the sunrise began abruptly, Ahn stopped talking and repeatedly wished, “I hope we are the second-largest party at the end of this year.” I could feel his determination. As I turned to see the rising sun, I once again wondered what my wish really was.

Desperation, however, is a necessary condition, but not the only condition. In less than six months, the Bareunmirae Party — a merger between the Bareun Party and the People’s Party — almost collapsed, and Ahn left to Germany. Why did he fail to successfully realize the Ahn Cheol-soo phenomenon, although he once emerged as a messiah in Korean politics?

It was probably because he failed to achieve his signature slogan — new politics. He failed to make the new party an alternative for the conservatives. As he turned the merged party into a collection of old faces, voters left him.

The emergency leadership of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) led by Kim Byung-joon, which will soon end its mandate, is no different. Although Kim was recruited as a relief pitcher to reform the party and Korea’s conservatives, he could not do anything. He seemed to follow in the footsteps of Ahn. That is no surprise. Before Kim was appointed to lead the emergency committee, the party offered the position to many, including Dr. Lee Guk-jong at Ajou University Hospital, to save the embattled party. Some party insiders even sneered at the idea of recruiting a real surgeon to cure the party. “What we really need is a psychiatrist,” they ridiculed.

I do not doubt Dr. Lee’s abilities as a surgeon. The party seems to be determined to recruit any famous face for its interests, but it has no intention to actually give power to the interim head to reform the party. It just wants to appoint a face-saving leader it can control to escape from the current crisis. To revive the ill party, it must find a young talent and support him or her to become the leader. We all know the answer: a vision demanded by our times, removal of the old guard and emergence of new faces.

To achieve the goal, more veteran politicians must step down and volunteer to nurture new conservative values and young leaders. That was why the interim leadership was established. But the LKP is actually going backward. Former Prime Minister Hwang kyo-ahn has joined the party, fueling the factional stripes again. Even after its unprecedented crisis, it can hardly change itself. It is just hoping that the ruling party will make a mistake. No wonder its campaign to publicly audition leaders of organization committees in 15 key districts failed to gain traction.

Around the world, young leaders in their 30s and 40s are increasingly emerging. Fed up with old politics, their people elected them to overcome their national crises. Of the 36 countries of OECD, leaders of 15 are in their 30s or 40s. But the LKP, which suffered two crushing defeats over the last two years, has no intention of discussing the need to recruit a young leader.

It must learn a lesson from the Roh Moo-hyun loyalists, who once vowed to retreat from politics but returned. They must fuel the wind of “young conservatives” and make it a typhoon. Auditions should have been held for entire districts around the country. But all it offered was a small tasting sample. How can they be sure that they won’t face yet another crisis? Indifference is often more fearful than hatred.

JoonAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 30