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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 22)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:00 November 22, 2019

Hunger strike with no cause
Opposition leader should return to parliament

Hardly anyone can understand why the leader of the main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is on a hunger strike. Even some party members are questioning why he is adopting such an extreme method.

LKP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn stopped eating food Wednesday to head off a looming "national crisis," which he claimed President Moon Jae-in is bringing to our security and democracy. In a statement, he came up with three demands: The Moon administration should renew a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, and withdraw two fast-track bills on electoral reform and establishing an anti-corruption investigative body.

Hwang must have gone too far in resorting to a hunger strike to put forward those demands which are unacceptable to the government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). Of course he must have felt growing frustration at the deepening political deadlock over pending issues. He and his party are opposed to Moon's decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan, fearing the weakening of security cooperation with the neighbor.

Besides, Hwang and the LKP have been struggling to block the passage of the two bills. The electoral reform bill is aimed at increasing proportional representatives in favor of smaller parties. But the LKP argues that the bill could lead to a significant loss of National Assembly seats for the party in the coming April election. It also accuses the Moon administration and the DPK of trying to crack down on opposition lawmakers by setting up the new anti-corruption body. But the body is designed to prevent ranking government officials from engaging in corruption.

Thus, the three issues Hwang cited are not good enough to legitimize his hunger strike. As he knows well, some late opposition leaders like Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung went on hunger strikes in the 1970s and 80s to protest the military dictatorship. But now we are living in a functional democracy. No politician has reason to risk their life for any political cause.

This is not the time for a hunger strike. It is time for Hwang to return to the Assembly and actively participate in the legislative process. Hwang and his party need to cooperate with the DPK in solving the GSOMIA problem and working out their bipartisanship to protect national interests in security and diplomacy.

Some pundits speculate that Hwang is staging a hunger strike in the face of his leadership crisis in the LKP. He is under mounting pressure to step down because of his poor performance to lead the party. He drew criticism for making an aborted bid to recruit a retired army general, who allegedly abused his soldiers, as a potential candidate for the next election. He is also blamed for forming an election planning taskforce dominated by his faction supporting the ousted President Park Geun-hye. It would be wrong if Hwang uses his hunger strike to get out of his own political crisis.

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