Go to contents

[Opinion] The Life Expectancy of a Political Party

Posted November. 07, 2005 07:23,   


What is currently the oldest political party in Korea? The answer is the United Liberal Democrats (ULD). But in the near future, the answer will be the Grand National Party (GNP).

The ULD was established by Kim Jong-pil in May 1995. The 10-year, five-month old party will be soon absorbed by a new party. The new party has been formed by a group of politicians and lawmakers whose support base is the central region of the country.

After the absorption, the GNP will become the “new” oldest party. It was set up in November 1997 and is eight years old. The GNP is followed by the Millennium Democratic Party (five years and 10 months) and the Korean Labor Democratic Party (five years and six months).

In fact, political parties in Korea are, relatively, much younger than those in other developed democracies. Such political parties include the Republican Party (151 years) and the Democratic Party (177 years) in the U.S., the Conservative Party (173 years) and the Labor Party (99 years) in the U.K., and the Liberal Democratic Party (50 years) in Japan. Since 1963, when the first law was enacted to regulate political parties in Korea, a total of 110 parties have been formed. Among them, only eight survived. The average life expectancy of a Korean political party is three years and two months.

The one party that has managed to exist the longest is the Democratic Republican Party. It was created in February 1963 by former President Park Jung-hee and has lasted for 17 years and six months. The opposite example is the Korean Independence Party for the 21st Century that closed within just 20 days of its establishment.

This kind of short life expectancy is attributable to the fact that a political party in Korea is not guided by a clear party platform or policy direction. Instead, parties are set up to win elections or to satisfy the political needs of certain influential politicians whose main source of support is an element of regional animosity in Korean politics. Former presidents formed their own parties soon after assuming the office only to solidify their support base. They are contributors both to the abundance of political parties in Korea and, ironically, to their rapid demise.

“Let us make the party stand for the next 100 years,” said President Roh Moo-hyun as he addressed his party members in his message to celebrate the first anniversary of the Uri Party in November last year. But one year later, contrary to Roh’s initial enthusiasm, there are hardly any signs of the kind of success mentioned in the presidential message. Since the electoral failure in the October 26 elections, the party has begun falling apart. For the last two years, the party leadership has changed as many as six times, a sign of incompetence. The approval rating for the party has dropped to 20 or to as low as 10 percent.

Observers inside and outside of the party doubt that the Uri Party will be able to survive another year. If history is any indication, a political party that failed to win the support of the people cannot stand for long. The case of the ULD should be a lesson to the Uri Party.

Song Young-eon, Editorial Writer, youngeon@donga.com