The People Power Party (PPP) determined five finalists in the race for the leadership of the main opposition Thursday. With the surprise popularity of 36-year-old Lee Jun-seok, a former member of the Supreme Council, the conservative party may have succeeded in drumming up some public excitement. In Wednesday’s luncheon at the Blue House between President Moon Jae-in and heads of five parties, Rep. Song Young-gil, leader of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), even asked Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, acting PPP chairman and floor leader, if he thought the political rookie in his 30s would be elected leader of the PPP.
The public’s keen interest in the contest for PPP leadership could be a good sign for the party. But alarming developments are taking place in the opposition as contestants tried to revive some ghosts from the past — deep-rooted factionalism — even after proclaiming the arrival of a new and better future. After taking power in 2012 after 10 years in opposition, the conservatives nearly fell apart due to a fierce internal battle among groups loyal to former President Lee Myung-bak, former President Park Geun-hye and independent Yoo Seong-min. The friction subsided after the party’s crushing defeats in 2016 parliamentary elections, 2017 presidential election, 2018 local elections and 2020 parliamentary elections.
It was senior members of the PPP who revived the ghosts. For instance, Na Kyung-won, former floor leader, publicly wondered if the party can “unify the opposition front and field a single candidate for the 2022 presidential election if a contender close to a certain politician becomes party leader.”
Ex-lawmaker Na attacked Lee, the rising star, for being some sort of a puppet of former floor leader Yoo Seong-min. Such a divisive approach is a relic of the past. Lee counterattacked Na for crossing the line by “stigmatizing her contender and polluting politics with dirty words.” Another PPP lawmaker, Ha Tae-keung, joined the counterattack by branding Na’s comment as a betrayal of party members who long for a victory in next year’s presidential election.
Such heat in the first round of a leadership contest owes much to the public’s growing demand for change in the conservative party. The surprising support for the PPP by voters in their 20s also could reflect the young generation’s antipathy to the ruling DP, not any genuine affection for the conservatives. The PPP must prove its ability to govern the country. There are no shortcuts in politics.