The return of nine conservative lawmakers to the main opposition Liberty Korea Party will heavily impact Korean politics, over which President Moon Jae-in and his ruling party have been dominant since Moon took office in May.
First, the nine lawmakers’ decision to bolt from the minor opposition Bareun Party and go back to the Liberty Korea Party they had deserted before the presidential election means that the nation’s conservatives have taken their first step toward recouping their strength.
A simple headcount shows the significance of the nine lawmakers rejoining the Liberty Korea Party: The already second-largest parliamentary force will increase the number of its seats at the National Assembly to 116, only five shy of the seats controlled by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.
Moreover, there is a strong possibility of more Bareun lawmakers returning to the Liberty Korea Party. It seems certain that at least three more are in line and some say the number could rise to six. That means the Liberty Korea Party could become the biggest party in the National Assembly.
That would pose a stiff challenge to President Moon and the ruling party, which, so far, has been facing little resistance, thanks largely to the divisive opposition parties and conservative forces that had been in disarray since the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and its loss in the presidential election that followed.
The nine lawmakers, including former Liberty Korea Party leader Kim Moo-sung, said in a statement that one of their goals is to check the Moon government’s unilateralism. There is no doubt that the nation needs a healthy, strong opposition whichever president and party are in power.
While the consolidation of conservative forces around the Liberty Korea Party will definitely bolster their prospects for the local elections in June next year, the road for the party would not be free from problems.
Most of all, the party has yet to banish the legacy of Park and her failed administration. It managed to boot Park out of the party, but some staunch Park loyalists are still trying to dig in their heels.
The first precondition for the revival of the nation’s conservatives is severing their ties with their former leader, who was nothing but a corrupt, incapable and irresponsible politician. Without it, the Liberty Korea Party will never reclaim the status as the bastion of the nation’s sensible conservatives.
Another implication from the Bareun lawmakers’ desertion is that any hastily, expediently organized party does not have any chance of success.
The Bareun Party was created by 33 lawmakers who left the Liberty Korea Party in the heat of the Park scandal and the impeachment process. But 13 returned to the Liberty Korea Party before the May 9 election, arguing the party’s candidate had no chance. Yoo Seong-min indeed finished in a distant fourth place.
Then the Bareun Party was stricken by persistent factional strife between those who called for reuniting with the Liberty Korea Party and those who oppose the idea.
Now, the party, with only 11 lawmakers, is to be stripped of its status as a parliamentary negotiating bloc, which needs at least 20 lawmakers. It will hold a national convention next week, but it would matter little whoever wins the new leadership. This should offer a lesson that a party built out of short-sighted purposes never wins the hearts of voters.
But the virtual collapse of the Bareun Party and the four-party system, which referred to the existence of four parliamentary negotiating groups, should not mean the end of hope for a robust multiparty system and development of a third-way party.
That hope should be enlivened by the People’s Party, which, with 40 seats in the National Assembly, would be able to flex stronger muscles than in the past because the gap between the numbers of lawmakers of the ruling and main opposition parties was further narrowed.
Korean politics has long been divided by one party represented by the southwestern provinces and progressives and the other based on the southeastern provinces and conservatives. The nation needs more diverse political voices.