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Main opposition continues to struggle with low support

Aug 13,2018
Support for the main opposition party remained largely unchanged last week despite the approval rating of the president and ruling party falling to a record low, raising doubts about the conservatives’ direction after their worst electoral loss in history.

President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating was 58 percent in the latest Gallup Korea poll conducted between last Tuesday and Thursday. His approval peaked in the second week of June at 79 percent in the same Gallup survey.

In line with the growing dissatisfaction with the president, support for the ruling Democratic Party fell to 40 percent last week from 56 percent two months earlier.

But the opposition Liberty Korea Party did not absorb the Democrats’ flagging support. Its popularity hovered at 11 percent, down from 14 percent two months earlier.

Gallup surveyed 1,003 adults nationwide, and the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The Liberty Korea Party has been struggling to recover from its worst electoral defeat in the June elections, where it lost all but two of 17 key races. Since that loss, the party’s support has been oscillating between 10 and 11 percent. They are a grim assessment for the interim leader, Kim Byung-joon, a former liberal aide who took the helm of the conservative party on July 17 to guide its turnaround.

Kim, who served in the Roh Moo-hyun administration during the mid-2000s, has opted for a different strategy to attack the Moon government.

Unlike hard-liners in the Liberty Korea Party who focused on Moon’s North Korea policy and foreign affairs, Kim has assailed the president’s domestic policies, characterizing them as heavy-handed regulatory overreach.

Kim’s criticism of the Moon government’s policies, which he calls “statism,” first centered on the decision to ban coffee vending machines at elementary, middle and high schools. He lampooned the decision, saying it would go as far as regulating television and internet food shows to combat obesity. He contended that the government was eroding individuals’ freedom and their ability to decide what is good or bad for them.

The “statism” line is a marked departure from the party’s past criticism of liberals for their perceived pro-North Korea stance and attempts to undermine the Seoul-Washington alliance.

But the recent polls show that the new line of attack isn’t resonating with the public, and if the Liberty Korea Party’s approval rating continues to stay in the low 10 percent level, party members might challenge Kim’s leadership and call for him to step down.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]