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Issue 242 [11.23]
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Issue 238 [01.26]
Tae Guk Gi and Stars & Stripes
Six Pary Talks
Asian Peace Philosophy
☞ Issue 237
Change Essential in 2017
Moon J. Pak
Change Essential in 2017
=Getting Progressive South Koreans on the Road to Victory in the Next Presidential Election=
Moon J. Pak
The appearance of the Geun-hye Park regime in South Korea in 2012, notwithstanding the doubtful legitimacy of her election after suspected election fraud involving the South Korean government’s intelligence agency, brought about a profound disappointment among country’s progressives.
This group, about half of South Korea’s electorate, had to endure five years of conservative rule by Myung-bak Lee, who set back the process of the 2000 Korean peninsula re-unification plan agreed upon between then-South Korean President Dae-jung Kim and North Korean leader Jong-il Kim. This agreement, known as the 6-15 Joint Statement, was signed on June 15, 2000 in Pyongyang, following a summit meeting between the two leaders.
Dae-jung Kim was followed by another liberal South Korean president, Moo-hyun Roh, who continued the peaceful reunification policy during his five-year term. During Ro’s tenure, another summit was held in Pyongyang on October 4, 2007 resulting in the 10-4 Joint Agreement. This second agreement furthered the process of close cooperation between the two, and continued the methodical approach to peaceful re-unification of the peninsula.
In 2007, this process was interrupted because of the election of Myung-bak Lee to the presidency in South Korea. These historical agreements, the implementation of which would have re-unified the peninsula, were ignored by Lee, whose five-year regime (2007-2012) was marked by multiple diplomatic setbacks and a buildup of confrontational tension between the Koreas.
For these reasons, progressives looked forward to the South Korean presidential election in 2012, hoping for the return to power of a progressive regime in the peninsula. It was thought that a return to a progressive approach to the relationship between the two Koreas would also re-establish a process for the peace and re-unification of the country.
Therefore, the election of Geun-hye Park was an occasion of deep disappointment for progressives in South Korea, and that sense of discouragement has only deepened in the past 20 months as they have observed her policy actions. The relationship between South and North has been worsening, with a real threat of confrontation. There has been no evidence of any policy change conducive to the democratization of nation’s economy, which she promised so ardently to do during the campaign. There has also been a dangerous social trend toward acceptance of an ultra-conservative ideology, the so-called “New Right Movement.”
Park has also showed a continued reliance and dependence on the U.S. Asia pivot policy, and has exhibited an apparent deliberate inaction on developing a policy approach to resolving the many issues brought to light by the April 2014 Sewol ferry disaster that killed nearly 300 young people. The Park administration has also persistently attempt to control the media and its coverage of progressive causes and issues.
Apparently, this conservative and regressive policy direction will continue until Park’s term ends in 2017. In preparing for that day, progressives must effect some extensive, in-depth, and serious planning. The liberal leadership should also do some retrograde soul-searching to analyze the causes of their defeat in 2012 as well as the unexpected miserable loss suffered in the recent midterm election, held since the Sewol disaster.
To make regime change happen in 2017, it is essential that progressive South Koreans work together for victory in the next presidential election. The loss of 10 years during the regimes of “Lee Myung-Park Geun-hye” (the popular mash-up slang name for this long spell of conservative leadership) is enough.
The time left before this crucial opportunity to change South Korea’s political leadership is not very long -- only two years; year 2015 and2016.
During these two years, a political coalition must emerge in South Korea to bring forward one capable and well-qualified candidate and get him or her elected. One of the big challenges to progressives in South Korea is lack of strong leadership. The many groups in South Korea which represent a spectrum of political philosophies must coalesce into one group at the expense of individualism and compromised political ideologies. Every liberal and progressive faction must sacrifice something to contribute to a single effective fighting force against the conservative juggernaut.
This means that many disparate groups must be ready to disregard any philosophical discrepancies, past personal animosities, or regional geographical factionalism, so typical among Korean politics in the past.
Early on, in fact, starting as soon as possible, progressives will need a strong charismatic candidate who has a respectable personal and educational background and a solid and ethical career record. This leader should of course espouse a patriotic liberal ideology, but also should have a flexible point of view, to attract undecided and crossover voters. The candidate should also have the ability to resonate with younger voters.
The progressive coalition must develop a policy platform to cover the major issues, including reunification, the economy, human rights, and international relations to name a few. There should be clear policy views, but the platform should not give an impression of empty, unrealistic campaign promises.
Progressive individuals and organizations must realize that proper preparation is crucial to ensure regime change in South Korea in 2017. In fact, moving enough voters to the progressive side should not be very difficult to do, in view of the narrow electoral margin that brought about a conservative victory in the 2012 presidential election – 52 percent versus 48 percent.
In analyzing the last presidential election, it is obvious that the progressive side was hampered on several fronts. There were, unfortunately, two competing candidates until only a week before the actual voting date. This competition was not good for the progressive cause and resulted in a disastrous split in the vote. That, and some proven violations in the elections law by the government intelligence agency and defense department, along with flaws in the digital vote-counting process, allowed the Park regime to walk into the Blue House.
There is an important additional contribution to consider – that of the direct and indirect role North Korea could play in this historic election. It is a fact that in every past presidential election, conservatives benefited significantly from a real or imaginary confrontational stance between the two Koreas. By pointing out North Korean hostility, they try to show that the hard-line approach of their candidate will be better suited to lead the country against a Communist takeover threat. In the past, to aid the conservative platform, conservative elements have either caused tension in the peninsula by creating provocative events, or falsified the existence of tension. Unfortunately, the North Koreans often naively fell into these traps.
This is a merry-go-round of fallacy and manipulation, and it need not happen that way this time! The North Koreans need better monitoring and interpretation of South Korean activities. To improve their political intelligence gathering, they could create a board of consultants in the government composed of South Korean political experts supported by strong intelligence connections. Such a group could monitor the South Korean political environment and advise North Korean leadership on the appropriate direction to take in dealing with any perceived conservative South Korean provocations.
North Korea could take significant proactive actions during the critical moments of the campaign, for example, by proposing a summit meeting between the two leaders after the election to advance the unification agenda beyond the 6-15 Agreement. They could suggest many topics, and include offers of significant concessions in the areas of defense budget reduction, resources exchange, and cooperative energy projects, such as the previously-proposed joint energy pipeline from Siberia. The agenda could also propose people’s cultural exchange programs, and even the idea of joint control of its nuclear weapons system between the two Koreas.
Opening up a pathway to peaceful re-unification will be possible only if the new leader of South Korea is from the progressive liberal party. The time is now for the progressive campaign movements to energize and mobilize all the progressive organizations nationwide, so that we can be heading in the same direction---to the Presidential Election, the Blue House, and down the road, toward the One Korea..
Moon J. Pak, M.D., Ph.D., an internal medicine specialist in the Detroit area, is the senior vice-president of the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC), and the chair of its U.S.-DPRK Medical Science Exchange Committee (UDMEDEX)
(Korean Quarterly, Vol. 17, NUM 03)
Moon J. Pak, M.D., Ph.D.
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