Tag Archives: NPAD

South Korea – Opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Splits?

Former presidential candidate Representative Ahn Cheol-soo announced his departure from the NPAD on Sunday, December 13, 2015, ending a troubled relationship with the opposition alliance that he co-chaired when it was officially launched in April 2014. The NPAD has had its share of problems, failing to fill the role as a viable opposition expected by members and supporters. Still, Ahn’s departure is a significant blow: it bares open the fractures within the alliance that the leadership has ineffectually tried to reconcile. Meanwhile, with about four months till the general elections in April 2016, the fragmented opposition is likely to hand the electoral advantage to the ruling Saenuri Party, as the following account shows.

The first signs of trouble in the opposition alliance surfaced soon after its founding, on the issue of party-nomination reforms which the NPAD had pledged to observe for the June 2014 by-elections. Closed-door party-nominations have been blamed for feeding corruption, public disapprobation, and distrust; consequently, the NPAD’s initial resolve on reforming the process promised to bring “new” politics to challenge the predominant politicking-as-usual. However, while the NPAD pushed hard for the reform, the Saenuri party maintained the party-nomination process, which advantaged its party candidates. In the face of the growing disadvantage, NPAD members challenged the reform while old-timers such as Gwangju mayor Kang Un-tae and party spokesperson Representative Lee Yong-sup quit the party. In response to the open rift, voters handed the by-elections to the Saenuri Party, giving the party 11 seats but only four to the NPAD. 20 NPAD party leaders, including co-chairs Ahn and Kim, resigned from their leadership posts to take responsibility for the trouncing and a major leadership change was underway.[1]

The leadership change seemed completed at the party convention in February 2015, with 2012 opposition presidential candidate Rep Moon Jae-in installed at the helm. At the same time, however, the contest laid bare the three major factions in the alliance: (1) Moon, who leads the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction that comprise supporters of the deceased former president; (2) Rep Park Jie-won, a leader of the pro-Kim Dae-jung faction that comprise supporters of the former president and Nobel-peace prize winner; and (3) Rep Lee In-young, a leader of the 486 faction that comprises former student activists and protestors of the authoritarian regime. Moon’s successful election did little to stem the party infighting. As a result, notwithstanding poor approvals for the president and the ruling party, the NPAD managed to snatch defeat from sure victory (again), losing all four seats in liberal strongholds in the April 29, 2015 by-elections, with three going to Saenuri and one to NPAD-turned-independent candidate, Chun Jung-bae.[2]

Since the 2015 by-election routing, the NPAD has openly feuded over responsibilities for the results. Ahn is not the first to bolt the party following the rising hostilities in the party, but his standing in the party is likely to induce others to follow suit. Thus, Ahn’s confidant and chief-of-staff, Rep. Moon Byung-ho, is expected to announce his departure by mid-December, and Moon predicts between 20 and 30 current NPAD members will join Ahn to create a new party. If Ahn and his allies manage to pool at least 20 seats in the legislature, Assembly rules means that it will be entitled to government subsidies and other parliamentary privileges.

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[1] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea in 2014: A Tragedy Reveals the Country’s Weaknesses.” Asian Survey vol 55 no 1: 132-141

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2015. “South Korea – Will the Opposition be a Viable Challenge in the 2016 Elections?”

 

 

South Korea – Will the Opposition be a Viable Challenge in the 2016 Elections?

The successful founding of the NPAD alliance – officially launched in April 2014 with two co-chairs, the popular independent representative and former presidential candidate, Ahn Cheol-soo, and Democratic Party chair Kim Han-gill, hot on the heels of Ahn’s establishment of his New Political Vision Party – offered the possibility of a viable opposition party to challenge the conservative turn in politics and policies in the country. Yet, supporters of the opposition have seen more disappointments than successes, and the 11-4 landslide in favour of the ruling Saenuri Party in the July 31 2014 by-elections did not bode well for an alliance that started off on strong footing. Will the opposition mature into a viable challenge for the 2016 elections? What lessons did the past year hold for the NPAD?

A big disappointment that contributed to the lackluster support for the NPAD was its reversal on party-nomination reforms. The closed-door nomination process was blamed for feeding corruption, and was a primary source of public disapprobation and distrust. Not surprisingly, all the candidates for the 2012 presidential race pledged to reform the process. However, while the NPAD pushed hard for the reform to be implemented in the 2014 elections, the Saenuri party reversed itself to adopt an open primary system that maintained party-nomination. Meanwhile, rifts within the NPAD over the value of scrapping party-nomination process arose, particularly since the Saenuri party’s reversal improved its candidates’ electability. In the face of a party revolt – leading NPAD members such as Gwangju’s Mayor Kang Un-tae and party spokesperson and Representative Lee Yong-sup quit the party over party-nominations – the NPAD reversed itself; to its further detriment, co-chair Ahn proceeded to pick candidates close to him for the local races. This double reversal – on the principle of “new” politics, followed by inconsistent and opaque party-nominations – fed the 11-4 hammering in the by-elections. 20 NPAD party leaders, including co-chairs Ahn and Kim, resigned from their leadership posts to take responsibility for the trouncing.

Another major set-back occurred over the opposition alliance failure to advocate for the Sewol families. In particular, then-NPAD floor leader Park Young-sun, who was elected to fill the chair position following the resignation of the NPAD party leaders, dropped a key demand that the Sewol families be granted a say in recommending candidates for the role of special prosecutor in the investigation of the tragedy. Committees representing the Sewol families blamed the NPAD – even more than the ruling party – for failing to represent their interests. Following the internal party rancor over the agreement, Park resigned her leadership posts at the NPAD. Still, the incident damaged the opposition’s standing.

At the party convention in February 2015, the NPAD elected the 2012 opposition presidential candidate Rep Moon Jae-in as leader in a contest that laid bare the three major factions in the alliance. Moon, who leads the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction that comprise supporters of the deceased former president, beat out Rep Park Jie-won, who leads the pro-Kim Dae-jung faction that comprise supporters of the former president and Nobel-peace prize winner, and Rep Lee In-young, who leads the 486 faction that comprises former student activists and protestors against the authoritarian regime.

Since his election as opposition leader, Rep Moon has extended olive-branches to the other factions while beating a steady drumbeat against President Park’s overreach.  Whether this works against the considerable headwinds against the opposition remains to be seen. At a minimum, it is clear that the opposition is aware of the need to articulate clear policies and governance strategies that show that it is more than stonewalling or obstruction.