[Editorial] Judgment on Saenuri

The April 13 general election has transformed Korea’s political landscape, depriving the ruling Saenuri Party of its majority, while giving the minor opposition People’s Party the balance of power in a revived three-party system.

The biggest surprise of all was the ruling party’s humiliating defeat, especially in the crucial capital area that encompasses Seoul and Gyeonggi Province.

The Saenuri Party relegated itself to a minority party by garnering a mere 122 of the 300-seat National Assembly, one seat less than the 123 won by The Minjoo Party of Korea.

The biggest winner of the election was the People’s Party, which secured 38 seats, a number large enough to make it a parliamentary force to be reckoned with.

The main reason for the ruling party’s shocking defeat was its arrogance. The party was confident of its victory because the opposition camp was split into two competing parties.

The ruling party’s official goal was to retain a majority, but some of its leaders thought the rivalry between the two opposition parties could boost its seats to well over 160.

This upbeat view led the party’s mainstream and nonmainstream factions to indulge in an ugly power struggle at a time when they should have made concerted efforts for election victory.

The ruling party framed the election as a judgment on the Minjoo Party, which they claimed to have blocked the government from implementing reforms by obstructing the legislative process.

But Korean voters rendered a negative judgment on the ruling party and its government. They were deeply disappointed with its prolonged row over candidate nominations and the government’s poor economic performance.

The party’s failure to retain its parliamentary majority will make it difficult for President Park Geun-hye to avoid becoming a lame duck. She is expected to face more difficulties in pushing for reforms during the remainder of her presidency.

Now, she will have to accept the election outcome humbly and should endeavor to listen to the voice of the people. She needs to talk with opposition leaders more frequently and, especially, try to win favor with the People’s Party, as the minor opposition group holds the balance of power between the two bigger parties.    

The Minjoo Party won an impressive victory in the capital zone, which brightens the odds of party leader Moon Jae-in in the presidential election slated for December 2017.

The party, however, suffered a painful setback by losing ground in its previous home turf, the Honam region that includes Gwangju and South and North Jeolla provinces. It needs to find ways to regain its lost bastion, given that an opposition candidate cannot expect to win a presidential election without the full backing of Honam voters.

The People’s Party is in a festive mood as it has achieved more than it expected. But the party should realize that it won support from voters not because they endorsed its policies but because they wanted to overhaul the dysfunctional two-party system.

The party’s leader, Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, argued that a three-party system would make the National Assembly more efficient. He should prove he was right by turning the destructive antagonism under the two party system into a politics of productive and healthy conflict among three players.