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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on Feb. 4)

All Headlines 09:38 February 04, 2017

Rediscover conservatism

Ban's exit from presidential race throws conservative camp into disarray

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's sudden drop out of the presidential race shocked not only conservative politicians but those voters who think that they have a strong conservative inclination. Though Ban described himself as a liberal conservative, the conservative camp has regarded him as the strongest rival to the runaway frontrunner Moon Jae-in, the former leader of the liberal main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

The conservatives have a rough going amid a massive scandal which led to the presidential impeachment. To add insult to injury, Ban's exit from the race has narrowed their position further. What worries them the most is the drought of noticeable candidates ahead of the presidential election.

The signs of conservatives being disintegrated are unprecedented. If the dire situation for the conservative side is left unattended, conservatism and liberalism may lose balance. The loss of their balance does little good to anyone. The two causes have their own roles. Their reciprocal checks and balances are needed to prevent a society from going to extremes.

Conservative candidates remaining with Ban out are not impressive. They are Rep. Yoo Seong-min and Gyeonggi Province Governor Nam Kyung-pil, both of the Bareun Party created by defectors from President Park Geun-hye's conservative Saenuri Party after she was impeached by lawmakers. Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn may be counted in, considering his fast rise in popularity though he has not expressed his intention to run for president yet. Combined, the three have a support rating of less than 20 percent, a number dwarfed by that of four opposition candidates. Moon, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung and former co-Chairman of the minor opposition People's Party Ahn Cheol-soo hold a combined rating of about 60 percent. Moon, An and Lee are to compete to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

An, regarded as relatively close to the center among opposition candidates, has taken a fast upturn in polls. A poll conducted after Ban dropped out of the race ranked him second to Moon with 12.3 percent. Moon's rating is around 30 percent.

Ban's exit from the presidential contest has left scars on the conservative camp. It abruptly dashed their hope for his good fight against Moon, throwing them into panic and lethargy. The lost opportunity cost incurred to rally support behind Ban is not negligible. The majority opinion is that the conservative camp has got the short end of it in many ways in the upcoming presidential election.

To a great extent, conservatives have brought crisis upon themselves. Their bloc showed corruption and incompetency. The Saenuri Party aired its dirty laundry in public through a factional strife over nominations for general elections last year. President Park’s confidante Choi Soon-sil, who is accused of meddling in state affairs, plunged the nation into the ongoing political crisis. The Choi scandal, in particular, casts a long shadow over conservative candidates, though they bolted from the Saenuri Party. Many members of the public give an icy look at the scandal. Arrogance, authoritarianism and immorality of the conservative camp seems to have gone beyond the limits of patience. Their consequences are reflected in the current campaign landscape.

Analysts forecast a sizable number of supporters for Ban will go to Hwang and Yoo after he dropped out of the race, but they are not large enough to impact the competition for presidency. Some political pundits observe that popular sentiment needs to be watched for any change or that conservatives may unite if the Constitutional Court upholds the impeachment. But such views are moot. Those who call for conservatives to rally behind Park while turning a blind eye to the Choi scandal are turned away by the public. Some members of the public sneer them as fake conservatives, who are as stubborn as a mule.

The conservative camp should turn its eyes to the pressing job of rediscovering the values of conservatism. They should make desperate efforts to throw off spurious conservatism. Conservatism places principles above personal desire. It emphasizes justice, humility and open-mindedness. Corruption and selfish vested interests hidden in the name of conservatism should be shaken off.

Though the contest for the presidential office is likely to be dominated by liberal candidates, about 40 percent of the Koreans still think of themselves as conservatives. The only way for conservatives to unite and level the political playing field would be to restore real conservatism. A society takes both right and left wings for a steady flight to prosperity.

(END)

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