DUP only has self to blame
The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) secured 127 parliamentary seats in the 300-member National Assembly through the Wednesday elections. Together with the minor Unified Progressive Party (UPP) with which it formed a strategic partnership during the elections, the opposition alliance obtained a total of 140 seats.
Seen from the election score sheet, it’s not a bad result because the liberal-leftist alliance obtained almost half of 300 seats up for grabs in the election.
The liberal group, however, underperformed, considering that the political landscape was in favor of the DUP as a series of scandals and corruption rows had battered the ruling Saenuri Party since December. The liberal party could have obtained much more than 127 seats, if its leadership and strategists had faithfully followed basic campaign rules.
In a nutshell, the DUP became suicidal and headed in the wrong direction, both in policy visions and campaign strategy.
It is conventional wisdom that parties embrace a set of pro-moderate measures ahead of elections to woo middle-of-the-road voters. Depending on surveys, some 25 to 30 percent of voters here described themselves as liberals, almost the same as those who portray themselves as conservatives. This means that there exist 40 percent or more moderate voters.
Drawing up measures to attract these voters, who usually take the lion’s share of the entire voter population, is one of the key jobs that campaign for strategists to win elections.
The conservative Saenuri Party faithfully followed this rule, whereas the DUP didn’t.
Park Geun-hye, interim leader of the ruling party, unveiled measures to protect working-class families with social benefits and to counter corporate greed. The ruling party sought the pro-moderate measures as the opposition parties painted it as an entity representing the best interests of business and high-income earners.
The strategy that the DUP chose during the campaign was very different. Instead of attracting moderate voters, the liberal party adopted a set of radical, nonsensical measures, which ultimately turned out to have repelled some its supporters, to gain support from progressive voters in vain.
This was suicidal. It is common sense that leftist voters will not opt for a liberal party in election even though it embraces some of their ideals, if there is a more “progressive” party that is seen more effective to respond to their needs. These voters would go for the UPP, not the DUP.
The liberal party pledged to reverse major national projects, such as the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island and the free trade agreement with the United States (KORUS FTA) which took effect in March. These were the major initiatives that had been pushed by the DUP when it was in power before the incumbent Lee Myung-bak government.
The DUP further pledged that its leadership would request the United States to renegotiate the trade pact if they win the presidential election slated for December.
In March, one university professor lamented that the liberal party was headed in the wrong direction after he saw the DUP play the KORUS FTA card relentlessly during the campaign. Asking for anonymity, he said, the party should have sharpened its rhetoric and detailed its rationale for why it switched its position on the free trade pact.
He said the liberal party should have done this in a sophisticated way. “The liberal party pushed for the trade deal when they took power, and years later it suddenly shifted its position without providing a convincing explanation. Voters could feel that the DUP was opposing the trade pact just for the sake of opposing it,” the professor said.
Watching carefully what the DUP did during the campaign, voters could have been confused. They might have questioned the credibility of the party. And their suspicion led to the election results that showed the liberal party achieving much less than it could have.
Some senior DUP members appeared to have a clear-cut understanding of why they lost in the election. In a speech to supporters Wednesday after winning the battleground Jongro election in Seoul, Rep. Chung Se-kyun said he would work hard to make the DUP gain voter confidence by seeking constructive criticism in the legislature. “I will do my best to help the DUP suggest an alternative if it has different ideas about certain issues, instead of pushing the opposing stance for the sake of opposing,” Chung said.
The DUP leadership will want to listen carefully to this wise man and need to follow his piece of advice in the post-election period as the presidential poll is just eight months away.