Both progressives and conservatives banding together for election

Posted on : 2012-11-28 13:23 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Conservatives are more unified ahead of election that could change the political framework
 staff photographer)  
staff photographer)  

By Kim Jong-cheol, staff reporter

As the Dec. 19 presidential election draws closer, progressives and conservatives are rallying around their presidential candidates for what is expected to be an all-out battle between the two sides.

The conservatives definitely hold the advantage in terms of cohesion and scope. To begin with, they got their ducks in a row early on after Park Geun-hye was chosen as the Saenuri Party (NFP) candidate back in August. The candidate is politically similar current president Lee Myung-bak - so much so that some have dubbed her “Lee Myung-Park Geun-hye.” Meanwhile, once peripheral conservative figures like former lawmaker Lee Hoi-chang and current lawmaker Rhee In-je have recently made their way into the Saenuri fold. Onetime critics of Park like former president Kim Young-sam and lawmaker Lee Jae-oh are also reportedly planning to assist the campaign. Former lawmaker Won Hee-ryong returned from Britain a few days ago to join in.

This marks the first time since 1987 and the revival of the direct presidential election system that conservatives have formed such a united front. In 1992, when Kim Young-sam was running against Kim Dae-jung, they were split over United People’s Party candidate and Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung; for the 1997 race between Lee Hoi-chang and Kim Dae-jung, it was Rhee from the People’s New Party. Lee also siphoned off a number of conservative votes as the Liberty Forward Party candidate when Lee Myung-bak ran against Chung Dong-young in 2007. There was only one conservative running in the 2002 election between Lee Hoi-chang and Roh Moo-hyun, but some of the ranks defected when Kim Jong-pil of the United Liberal Democrats sat it out.

“This is most united I’ve ever seen the conservatives for an election, from the moderates all the way to the ‘die hards,’” said one Saenuri strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There’s the feeling among conservatives right now that anyone who falls out of ranks even slightly is a traitor. That’s why this election is worth fighting even with the public hoping so much for a different party to take power.”

Progressives are also forming alliances. Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party (DUP) became the main opposition candidate when independent Ahn Cheol-soo bowed out last week. Shim Sang-jung, whose Progressive Justice Party is a major force among the country’s progressives, pulled out before candidate registration for the sake of opposition unity. This was the first time a progressive party candidate withdrew for this reason since grass roots candidate Baek Gi-wan did so in 1987. Lee Jung-hee did register as the Unified Progressive Party candidate, but she is also stressing the need for opposition solidarity to unseat the Saenuri Party.

Former DUP chairman Sohn Hak-kyu, who had been keeping a low profile since the primary, came out in support of Moon on Nov. 27. The recent activities suggest the kind of rallying of forces within and outside the DUP that people like Seoul National University law school professor Cho Kook had been calling for.

But the progressives are also a lot less cohesive than the conservatives. A planned policy alliance between the DUP and Ahn Cheol-soo was stopped dead by difficulties in the attempt to reach a decision on whether he or Moon would be the single opposition candidate. Now a growing number of people in both camps are saying unity needs to be put back on the agenda.

“Ahn Cheol-soo isn’t walking away from politics,” said Yoon Yeo-joon, head of the DUP’s committee for citizen unity. “He’s determined to carry on, and I think he’s going to actively lend his support for Moon to win. If he does, then unity on the opposition side is going to be that much stronger.”

With the presidential election shaping up into this kind of battle, the losing side stands to take a major hit, but the result could be something of a change in the political landscape.

Seoul National University professor Kang Won-taek said the competition was less a battle between conservatives and progressives in the traditional sense, and more a forced choice imposed by a system with no runoffs.

“Fully one-third of the public is dissatisfied with the current two-party system,” Kang said. “The current party framework will be difficult to maintain no matter who wins.”


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