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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on Feb. 9)

All News 07:05 February 09, 2017

Healthy proposal

Coalition viable means to overcome partisan, ideological divide

South Chungcheong Province Gov. An Hee-jung's proposal to form a "grand coalition" for the next government may well be part of his efforts to broaden his support base, as the liberal candidate is fast emerging as a dark horse in the presidential race. Yet, the proposal itself should not be dismissed as a simple populist pledge.

An's argument is simple: Whoever win the presidency, the next government will not be able to assume the support of a majority of National Assembly. A wide coalition government embracing both conservatives and liberals is therefore necessary to achieve political stability and effective governing.

During an election, talk about alliances and coalitions is supposed to flourish. Already, there are numerous talks and speculations about possible realignments of political parties and alliances of candidates for the next presidential election. In one such development, Sohn Hak-kyu, an independent presidential hopeful, joined the People's Party on Tuesday and he is expected to compete for nomination with former party leader Ahn Cheol-soo.

What separates An's proposal from previous ones is that it reaches out toward the other end of the ideological and political spectrum -- the ruling Saenuri Party -- now denounced as a holdout of politicians loyal to impeached President Park Geun-hye -- and the Bareun Party, a minor group consisting of breakaways from the Saenuri Party.

For a liberal candidate like An, forming an alliance that includes conservatives is pretty risky. Overall, such a move could help him win more middle-of-the-road and conservative voters, but it will certainly handicap his bid to win the presidential ticket of the liberal camp.

It is of little surprise that An's liberal rivals like former leader of the Democratic Party of Korea Moon Jae-in -- the current front-runner -- and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung have teamed up against An, whose popularity is fast increasing after former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced he would not pursue the presidency last week.

Lee, regarded as more radical than other candidates, is leading the attack against An, calling his grand coalition proposal a "betrayal' of the public sentiment that led to the parliamentary impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

By and large, coalition governments are more prevalent in a parliamentary cabinet system in which the ruling party seeks an alliance with other parties to gain control of the legislature. It is not easy to form a bona fide coalition government in a presidential system, in which, like in Korea, the presidential election is a winner-takes-all game.

Pessimists may also recall the proposal former President Roh Moo-hyun made in 2005. With his ruling party outnumbered by the opposition in the National Assembly, Roh proposed a coalition government in which the opposition would name the prime minister, who would in turn tap Cabinet ministers. The opposition rejected the proposal, accusing Roh of, among other things, seeking to have the opposition share the responsibility for what it called the failure of his government.

Now, the situation is much different from that of 12 years ago. A mega scandal involving the president has plunged the nation into an unprecedented crisis. The parliamentary impeachment of Park has further widened the gulf in the already polarized nation.

The polarization will get worse when the Constitutional Court makes its ruling on the president's impeachment. Hard-core liberals and conservatives will never accept a ruling opposite to their tightly held position.

It is very likely that one of the first jobs of the next president will be fighting the division. Moreover, as An noted, whoever wins the presidency has to work without solid legislative support if the current battle lines are maintained.

These are some of the reasons An's proposal should not be rejected outright, by either conservatives or liberals. An and Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil of the Bareun Party, another presidential aspirant in his 50s, have already proved the possibility of a successful coalition with the opposition in their gubernatorial governance. Such efforts should be encouraged and cheered on.

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