[Editorial] Democratic Party’s sweeping victory shows the public supports for Moon administration

Posted on : 2020-04-16 18:17 KST Modified on : 2020-04-16 18:17 KST
Democratic Party leader Lee Hae-chan and Lee Nak-yon, the party’s candidate for Seoul's Jongno District, and Lee In-young, the party’s floor leader, celebrate in the party’s election situation room at the National Assembly on Apr. 15. (Yonhap News)
Democratic Party leader Lee Hae-chan and Lee Nak-yon, the party’s candidate for Seoul's Jongno District, and Lee In-young, the party’s floor leader, celebrate in the party’s election situation room at the National Assembly on Apr. 15. (Yonhap News)

South Korean voters expressed themselves emphatically in the parliamentary elections on Apr. 15: the ruling Democratic Party and its proportional affiliate, the Together Citizens Party, won 180 seats, well over a 151 majority in the National Assembly. The main opposition United Future Party (UFP), on the other hand, is slated to 103 seats, considerably below the 122 seats it won in the 2016 election, even when its proportional affiliate’s seats are accounted for.

The last time the Democratic Party took a majority of seats in the National Assembly was 16 years ago, in 2004, during the presidency of Roh Moo-hyun. But its seat total this time around is 28 more than the 152 it won in 2004. This outcome shows that South Koreans have a positive view of how President Moon Jae-in is running the government and are likely to support his governing program in the final two years of his presidency.

By the same token, the election can be seen as a sharp rebuke to the UFP, which has bashed the Moon administration’s policies on every possible occasion. The UFP’s crushing defeat can only be blamed on Hwang Kyo-ahn and other party leaders, who stuck with an outdated approach and failed to perceive that the public craved innovative alternatives.

One of the biggest consequences of the election is that voters gave the Democratic Party a resounding majority in the National Assembly. That can be seen as a stinging rejection of the squabbling between the ruling and opposition parties and the opposition’s hobbling of legislative attempts to improve the public livelihood and institute reforms in various areas.

In the new session of the National Assembly, therefore, the Democratic Party must respect the public will expressed through this election by pushing forward more aggressively with reform legislation. Particular attention should be paid to the fact that the people want prosecutorial reform to be accelerated.

Throughout the election period, the UFP zeroed in on former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and called on support from voters, warning that the Democratic Party, if victorious, would rehabilitate Cho. But the election results show that South Koreans aren’t sympathetic to the opposition party’s attempt to exploit the Cho Kuk scandal as ammunition for political attacks.

Voters approve of Moon administration’s dedication, but punish UFP for its dogged criticism

However, that’s no excuse to disregard the values of fairness and justice, which were highlighted by the Cho Kuk scandal. That conclusion is backed up by the fact that the Open Democratic Party — which openly defended Cho Kuk — ended up receiving fewer votes than expected, acquiring only three seats.

It’s undeniable that the public’s positive assessment of the current government’s response to the coronavirus contributed to the Democratic Party’s victory in the election. The government’s success at blocking the spread of the coronavirus by mobilizing the resources of the entire society while still striving to protect democracy and civic rights as much as possible has set a shining example for the world to follow. The fact that South Koreans agree with this global assessment was evident in the election results.

The UFP was wrong to disparage the government’s measures against the disease by claiming that the coronavirus has caused Moon administration’s poor performance over the past three years to recede into the background. The government’s most paramount mission is defending the lives and safety of its citizens. It’s fair to say that citizens approve of the Moon administration for its dedication to that basic mission and punished the UFP for its dogged criticism on the same front.

Democratic Party mustn’t see victory as a chance to gloat and be complacent

While the Democratic Party may have achieved a stunning victory in the election, this is no time to gloat. It’s true that the party greatly increased its seats in the National Assembly, but it must bear in mind that, in quite a few cases, it only regained seats in its traditional stronghold in the southwest Honam region, seats it had forfeited to a centrist party in the previous election.

The fact that the Democratic Party won fewer seats in Busan and South Gyeongsang Province than it did four years ago is a bitter pill to swallow. The ruling party may have gotten positive marks for its response to the coronavirus, but it mustn’t become complacent. All resources must be focused on overcoming the economic crisis that’s starting to develop.

UFP needs to interpret defeat as chance for self-reflection

The UFP, as the main opposition party, needs to take this opportunity to engage in some serious and painful reflection, with the determination to turn over a new leaf. The various factions of the conservative party that had been fractured by the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye were reunited for the parliamentary elections, but the fact is that the election outcome was far from meeting expectations. The party may have increased membership, but it failed to produce change and innovation.

Since the impeachment, the conservatives have promised the public time and time again that they would launch a new movement, but they’ve been judged severely for not following through on that promise. Some prime examples of that failure are Cha Myong-jin, the UFP candidate who made inflammatory remarks about the Sewol tragedy, and party leader Hwang Kyo-ahn, who was constantly criticizing the Moon administration’s coronavirus response.

The fact that Hwang and the rest of the UFP’s big wigs were defeated in the election should be taken as a stern warning from the public that the party’s current values and figures aren’t sufficient, and that it needs a total transformation. We hope that the conservatives will realize, even now, that their party has no future without a genuine renewal.

This parliamentary election was held amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. That was only possible because citizens took their civic duties seriously. Fighting the disease and holding the vote are both essential values, neither of which can be abandoned. But disease control demands social distancing, and voting can be a vector for infection. That’s why leading countries around the world, including the US, the UK, and France, have been delaying elections in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak.

This election had a turnout of 66.2%, which was the highest figure in 28 years. That kind of turnout shows that citizens were determined to exercise their right to vote despite the inconvenience of social distancing and other protocols necessary to prevent infection. Through their enthusiastic endorsement of popular sovereignty and their mature sense of civic duty, Koreans have essentially given the world yet another model for public behavior.

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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