[Editorial] UFP needs to view its election defeat as a call for legitimate change

Posted on : 2020-04-17 17:43 KST Modified on : 2020-04-17 17:43 KST
Kim Jong-in, head of the United Future Party’s election committee, speaks in support of Hwang Kyo-ahn, UFP party leader and its candidate for Seoul’s Jongno District, on Apr. 14. (Kang Chang-kwang, staff photographer)
Kim Jong-in, head of the United Future Party’s election committee, speaks in support of Hwang Kyo-ahn, UFP party leader and its candidate for Seoul’s Jongno District, on Apr. 14. (Kang Chang-kwang, staff photographer)

One day after taking only 103 seats in the parliamentary election on Apr. 15, the United Future Party (UFP) and the Future Korea Party, its proportional satellite, vowed to rebuild the party on a foundation of repentance, reform, and innovation. But more important than flowery speeches is putting those words into practice. If the UFP fails to perceive the meaning of the pummeling it received from voters in the election, its future is grim.

The UFP has offered various interpretations for its disastrous defeat. The main reason for the disaster, party members say, was a string of verbal blunders, including party leader Hwang Kyo-ahn’s suggestion that some people implicated in the “Nth Room” sex scandal had been driven by curiosity and other lawmakers’ derogatory remarks about the Sewol tragedy and certain age groups.

But considering that the UFP’s call for a day of “judgement” of the Moon administration backfired when voters cast judgment on the UFP instead, the party’s attempt to blame its failure on tactical errors suggests a woeful blindness. The election outcome should be seen as a serious indictment of a conservative party that is hopelessly out-of-touch, ignorant of the changing times and obsessed with obstructionism, even while shouting empty slogans about repentance and reform.

Conservatives have only focused on reactionary obstruction rather than genuine innovation

Despite three consecutive defeats — in the previous general elections in 2016, the presidential election in 2017, and the local elections in 2018 — the UFP has refused to change. The face of the party has changed over the years, with Hong Jun-pyo, Kim Byeong-joon, and Hwang Kyo-ahn serving as party leaders, but there hasn’t been any genuine innovation. Hwang, who was prime minister during the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, never managed to grow out of prejudices dating back to his days as a prosecutor responsible for hunting down North Korean spies and other security threats. While leading the party, he dedicated his energy to only blocking the policies of the Moon administration.

The UFP obstructed all efforts to achieve reconciliation with North Korea, castigating government officials as “pro-North leftists” and attacking them for “groveling to China.” In every policy debate, the conservatives went on the attack, while failing to offer an attractive alternative of their own. When housing prices shot up, they demanded that real estate regulations be rolled back; when the minimum wage was raised, they called for the government to scrap its income-led growth strategy; and during the Cho Kuk scandal, they focused on defending Cho’s archnemesis, Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-yeol.

When the ruling party formed a coalition with smaller parties in a bid to pass a prosecutorial reform bill and a revision to election law, the UFP started a brawl in the National Assembly. And when the whole world was praising Seoul’s response to the coronavirus, the UFP was still calling for a total entry ban on travelers from China. The party even attacked emergency relief funds that had been allocated to help struggling citizens as bribery for votes in the parliamentary elections.

Such behavior is mostly the fault of party leaders who have repeatedly taken regressive steps, toeing the line of the narrative set by South Korea’s three major conservative newspapers, which tend to blame everything on the Moon administration.

In the eyes of the public, the UFP must have looked like a political throwback, picking fights with the ghosts of yesteryear. At the district level, party grandees Na Kyung-won, Shim Jae-chul, Min Kyung-wook, Kim Jin-tae, and Lee Un-ju were all unseated, leaving little doubt about the people’s judgment in this election.

The UFP needs to realize that it has no future unless it engages in profound reflection and painful reform. It needs to stop kowtowing to the moth-worn narrative peddled by the conservative papers. It’s not too late for a shift toward compassionate conservatism, for caring for the community and sparing a thought for disadvantaged members of society. Trying to thwart the government at every step will never win the public over.

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

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