Thursday, May 01, 2008

Opportunity amidst division?

My good friend Cho Hee Yeon was in today's Hankyoreh;

Reform and reconciliation top agenda of progressive party forum
Progressive parties are tasked with finding new ways to reignite voters’ desire for social change

The Korea Labor and Society Institute hosted a forum on April 30 to mark the 13th anniversary of its foundation. The forum was aimed at assessing the achievement and future development of Korean-style progressive party politics, and officials from both progressive opposition parties attended. The Democratic Labor Party and the New Progressive Party split in January, just before the April 19 parliamentary election. The DLP won just five seats in the election, whereas the NPP was unable to gain any seats in the country’s unicameral 299-seat National Assembly.

In his keynote speech, Park Sang-hun, the chief executive of the publishing company Humanitas, said the two progressive parties had poor results in the April vote because of their lack of leadership and the perception that progressives were ignoring politics altogether. Citing Max Weber’s remark that democracy without leaders would result in a domination of certain factions within political parties, rather than strengthening the power of the general public, Park said, “The reason why the political influence of the progressive parties has faded away is not because of factions, but an unlimited tolerance of factional feuding due to a lack of strong leadership. South Korea’s progressive parties have insisted on rejecting the model of leadership in which a political party is represented as a person. For the progressive parties to become more politically powerful, it is urgent to build a leadership that responds to social demands.”

In addition, Park said, progressive politicians have only pretended to have kept their distance from power politics, though they have actually been involved in such politics. As they have continued to do these things over and over again, it has prompted them to think about “who should take more moral responsibility.” As a result, it has forced the progressive parties to continue to lose supporters, Park said. “In that sense, it’s a natural consequence that the progressive force was recently split in two and reported poor political results.”

At the forum, Cho Hee-yeon, a sociology professor at SungKonghoe University, said there is a window of opportunity for progressive politics against the regime of neo-liberalism, after the landslide win by the ruling Grand National Party in the April election. Cho encapsulated “anti-neo-liberalist politics” as “radical politics for livelihood protections,” saying the progressive parties should present alternative proposals on housing, public health, medical service, education and life after retirement. In the April election, many low-income people voted for GNP candidates mainly because of campaign pledges related to “new town” apartment construction projects. Cho called low-income voters’ support of the “new town” plans an expression of a “desire for imitation,” explaining that voters wanted to copy the success of those who became rich during the 1970s-80s, when military-backed governments put the economy ahead of democracy. “The task for progressive politics is how to turn the desire for imitation into a desire for livelihood protections,” Cho said.

Cho also proposed that the DLP and NPP forge a “non-hostile relationship of conflict.” Cho, who opposed the split, said, “I hope the split will be an opportunity for the two factions to find a way to appreciate each other’s agenda. I think that the progressive party split should bring internal reforms that were difficult under the factional divisions of the past.”

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