By Kang Hyun-kyung
North Korea has become a political hot potato in the minor Unified Progressive Party (UPP) ahead of the competition to select the lineup of its new leadership, including its chairman. The leadership contest is slated for next Sunday.
Two schools of thought exist on North Korea in the minor party.
Radicals, who have remained silent over North Korea’s human rights abuses, revealed their discontent about the U.N. Security Council’s reaction to North Korea’s rocket launch. In a press release, Woo Wie-young, a UPP spokeswoman, said the punishment-oriented response would not help ease tensions in the region.
Woo is one of the UPP members accused of being a “sympathizer with North Korea.” Out of 13 UPP lawmakers-elect, six of them fall into this category.
Moderates, meanwhile, voiced concern over these people’s position on North Korea. They argued North Korea’s characterization of the long-range missile as a satellite is inappropriate and the minor party needs to listen to the general public’s worries over the reclusive nation’s provocation.
Roh Hoe-chan, who won the Nowon election by a wide margin, and Shim Sang-jeong, another lawmaker-elect, are in this group.
Five lawmakers-elect, including Roh and Shim, are described as moderates in terms of their North Korea policy.
The radicals and moderates were pro-democracy fighters when they were college students in the 1970s and 80s. The former group called for a class struggle-driven revolution to achieve an equal society, whereas the latter one were student idealists.
Although the two groups shared the goal of achieving democracy, the ideological tools they relied on were different.
North Korea has emerged as a contentious issue in the UPP as the leadership contest approaches.
Han Ki-hong, president of the Seoul-based non-profit Network for North Korean Democracy, predicted it would be hard for moderates such as Roh, a towering figure representing the moderate group, to gain the upper hand in the leadership contest.
“The vast majority of UPP members are supporters of radical ideologists. Roh is a star politician and is influential among citizens, but his influence in the progressive party is limited,” he said.
Han, also the author of the book “Shadow of the Progressive Wing,” said there is a group of people flexing their muscles inside the party and they dominate decision-making there.
He said the term North Korea is taboo in the progressive party and that they fear that the party will be destabilized if they are divided over North Korea issues.
The latest debate is the second round of a pros and cons debate over North Korea in the progressive party, following a deadly one back in 2008 ahead of the parliamentary elections, which led to a split of the party.
Moderates and radicals were united again last December, five months before the recent National Assembly elections after realizing that neither side benefited from the division.
Although the two factions cohabit in the minor party, analysts say their ideological differences over North Korea are hard to narrow.