April 08, 2021 13:24
Until Wednesday's landslide victory in the mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan, the main opposition People Power Party signally failed to offer as a credible political alternative to the government. The party totally collapsed after the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in 2016 and failed miserably in consecutive presidential, local and general elections. Voters did not have any confidence in the PPP and young people despised it, no matter how many times it changed its name to shed the taint of Park's corrupt operetta regime. Now it has finally managed to win a by-election after two of the ruling Minjoo Party's mayors were ousted over sexual harassment charges.
The Moon Jae-in administration's ineptitude and hubris have been apparent for a long time. Just one month after he took office, Moon announced his keynote policy of phasing out nuclear power despite having no feasible alternative energy plans. Yet Moon simply shrugged off the criticism. The ruling party ended up dominating the National Assembly, provincial governments and even the judiciary because the public did not trust the opposition.
Opposition lawmakers also showed little interest in keeping the ruling party in check. They were busy fighting over what scraps they had left and even competed with the government's populist policies. Their unseemly behavior caused many voters to shake their heads in disgust. Even as Koreans grew increasingly disillusioned with the Moon administration, they could still not bring themselves to hold their noses and vote for the opposition. Had the opposition camp functioned properly, the government would have been judged by voters a long time ago and the country would not be in the pitiful shape it is in today.
The PPP must not think that voters have now given it a rousing thumbs-up. This was a vote of disgust with the Moon administration, and the public remains highly skeptical of the PPP's abilities. Opposition lawmakers are in for a rude awakening if they think that the by-election has cleared the decks.
A key feature of Wednesday's election was that young Koreans rallied behind the conservative opposition. This is unprecedented. Seoul Mayor-elect Oh Se-hoon and Busan's new Mayor Park Hyung-joon are cut from the traditional cloth of the PPP, stalwart conservatives from southeastern Korea. But they have both stressed pragmatism in their policies, which shows what the general public wants.
The PPP now faces an uphill struggle proving itself worthy of that trust as the public watches its every move. It will face many attempts by the old guard to return to their old ways and feed their political greed. If it forgets what led to its destruction and to whom it owes its resurgence, it will quickly collapse again.
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