Dong-A Ilbo Sees Minjoo Party at a Crossroads
Having been handily defeated in the last two presidential elections (2007 and 2012), some say that the main liberal party, the Minjoo Party (더불어 민주당) is in need of an identity change. One of them is interim chairperson Kim Jong-in. Kim seized the reins following the dissolution of the party’s predecessor, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), and is seen as pushing a security-centered party identity, one that moves it out of the shadow of one of the party’s previous leaders (namely, former President Roh Moo-hyun). Former party chairperson Moon Jae-in is seen as the standard bearer of the Old Guard, Roh-era liberal politics; Moon was Roh’s last chief of staff. Roh is famous for implementing a policy of relatively unconditional engagement with North Korea (the Sunshine Policy) and questioning the functional value of the US-ROK Alliance at the most fundamental levels.
It should thus come as little surprise that the debate surrounding Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) deployment to rural Seongju County has divided the opposition party along factional lines, with those opposing THAAD’s deployment falling into the pro-Moon camp, with others left to seek alternative positions. As pressure builds from within the party to unite in opposition to the government’s decision to deploy THAAD, interim chair Kim has come under fire for his attempts to redefine the party as a “party of security” (안보 정당). The recent visit by six first-term assemplypersons to China to discuss South Korea’s decision to deploy THAAD has exacerbated tensions.
The identity crisis that has thus beset the Minjoo Party is more important than it might otherwise be, given that the party is in the process of selecting a new party chairperson among vetted candidates. The new party chair will either lead an embattled and internally divided party towards a new identity, or return to the familiar pro-Moon line (which certainly won’t heal the division). As per Yonhap, “The three chosen [via a preliminary election process] are Reps. Choo Mi-ae, Lee Jong-kul and Kim Sang-gon, who is a party personnel official. Choo and Kim are considered to be in the so-called pro-Moon Jae-in faction, and Lee an independent candidate.”
Highlighting the importance of the leadership election, the right-leaning Dong-A Ilbo published an editorial outlining what is at stake, adopting what is doubtless a pro-government position regarding THAAD. Among other staples of conservative politics, the editorial conflates opposition to THAAD with “pro-North” tendencies. Nevertheless, the piece, translated below, provides a window into how one of the South Korea’s dailies reads into blackbox of intra-party politics, and rightly points out that Kim Jong-in’s battle to remold the party keeps running up against history and convention.
“[사설]野당권주자들, ‘사드 반대’ 경쟁하며 親文노선 돌아갈 건가” [[Editorial] Opposition party leadership candidates, while competing for ‘THAAD opposition’ will they return to Pro-Moon line?], Dong-A Ilbo, August 9, 2016.
Six National Assembly lawmakers from the Minjoo Party who oppose the deployment of THAAD in South Korea went ahead with their planned visit to China [방중(訪中)] yesterday. Facing the party’s convention on the the 27th, candidates for the party leadership presented their positions on the visit to China in order to emphasize their [political] stances and strong images. The pro-Moon (Jae-in) line (친문(친문재인)계) candidate Choo Mi-ae pointed out, “We need global cooperation to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem, but on the contrary, the [South Korean] government’s decision to deploy THAAD creates Sino-South Korea conflict (한중갈등).” In a statement critical of President Park Geun-hye, candidate Kim Sang-gon remarked, “The Blue House’s unilateral action on THAAD has made [our] relationships with other countries in the region extremely tricky.”
This party convention is the time to see whether [the party] will maintain interim party chairman Kim Jong-in’s position that the Minjoo Party is a “party of national security,” or will return to a more North-friendly [친북(親北)] position in keeping with the line of former party chair Moon Jae-in. Moon remarked last month that “the essence of the crisis on the Korean peninsula is the North Korean nuclear problem, but because the government is clinging to the ‘THAAD problem’ it makes solving the ‘nuclear problem’ all the more difficult. They’ve got it the wrong way around.” He suggested that the decision to implement THAAD should be reconsidered, and proposed an approval process from the National Assembly.
By entering the debate on THAAD, those running for party leadership have made an attempt to draw out Moon Jae-in, who seized power within the party as a result of the 4.13 elections. Candidate Choo claims that the party should adopt opposition to THAAD as party policy, and Kim insists that THAAD should itself be reviewed. Lee Jong-kul, the minority candidate, said that “(those assemblypersons who visited China) could be classified as an anti-THAAD faction, and therefore get used by China,” although he emphasizes the importance of the National Assembly.
Representative Kim Jong-in, who is attempting to extend the scope of the Minjoo Party, told the candidates yesterday, “How can we judge public opinion and thus become a party worth of government? I ask you to keep this in mind.” [“어떻게 민심을 파악해서 반드시 수권정당이 될 수 있을지, 머릿속에 새겨 달라”고 당부했다. ] However, the candidates, who must calculate votes, seem no longer convinced.
What’s worse, at a joint debate on the 6th, in response to a question about the need to impeach Park Geun-hye, candidate Kim [Sang-gon] responded, “If she continues to ignore the voices of the people, then impeachment will come up.” He continued, “If it is decided that impeachment is the party’s position, then I will play a central role.”
Yesterday, President Park effectively criticized the Minjoo Party, saying: “No matter how much one opposes the government domestically, when it comes to matters of national security bipartisan it is the basic duty of politics to cooperate and not aggravate internal divisions.” It is true that the Blue House neglected to explain the decision to deploy THAAD or persuade [the public to support it]. However, THAAD confronts the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles, and bipartisan cooperation on the deployment decision is the stance of a party worthy of leadership. When the democratic party was utterly defeated in 2012, it was seen as a “party uncertain on national security.” [더민주당이 2012년 대선에서 패한 데는 ‘안보 불안 정당’이라는 이미지가 적잖게 작용했다.] It would be interesting to know whether it is the intention of the Minjoo Party to incite political division within South Korea (남남갈등) in accordance with China’s wishes and thus bring about a delay to the THAAD deployment, and then to withdraw the deployment decision altogether in the event that the party takes power.
Source: “[사설]野당권주자들, ‘사드 반대’ 경쟁하며 親文노선 돌아갈 건가” [[Editorial] Opposition party leadership candidates, while competing for ‘THAAD opposition’ will they return to Pro-Moon line?], Dong-A Ilbo, August 9, 2016. Translation by Steven Denney.