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Democratic Party (DP)
Minjoo Party of Korea
Democratic Party (DP)

Improving people's livelihoods was the core emphasis of the 31 January 2018 policy speech by Woo Won-shik -- the floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. He noted that although the country's per capita income is poised to touch the 30-thousand dollar mark -- there's more than meets the eye. Internally, South Korea suffers from low growth and faces a slew of social problems -- such as a shrinking working population, real estate bubble and wealth polarization. To overcome such issues at stake -- Woo called for the creation of a body comprised of lawmakers, social and economic entities.

"It's aimed at pulling out a social compromise on various policies, from labor and welfare to regulations. We will also be able to better reflect the voices of young people, women, irregular workers and small companies. With the National Assembly involved, we will also be able to swiftly take care of legislative affairs."

Woo also vowed to push for a fair economy, by reforming the country's conglomerates, as well as foster manpower and infrastructure in line with the so-called fourth industrial revolution. He said investments will be centered on the people -- so that it raises the competitiveness of companies and the country overall.

The floor leader also promised to carry out a Constitutional amendment that's focused on bettering people's lives, as well as swiftly reform the power organs of the country to restore democracy. "We will open-mindedly talk with the opposition on areas they are concerned about. But let me reaffirm that we are not trying to control the power organs. We will accept the opposition's request for the National Assembly to hand pick the head of an independent agency to handle investigations that involve high-ranking officials."

He also called for the opposition's cooperation so that North Korea's participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics can be the first steps to achieve peace on the peninsula, while also urging Pyongyang to change its attitude.

The opposition Democratic Party of Korea until late 2016 called itself the Minjoo Party of Korea. The nation's main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea elected its first female head. Through the national convention held on 27 August 2016, members of the Minjoo Party picked five-term lawmaker Choo Mi-ae as their new chief and eight new Supreme Council members. It marked the first time the party had selected a leader from the Daegu-and-North Gyeongsangdo Province region, the traditional stronghold of the ruling Saenuri Party.

Choo promised to unite the party by breaking away from factionalism, defeatism and outdated politics. The new leader was expected to layout "progressive-leaning" changes to the party's policies, including its stance on the deployment of the US missile defense system THAAD, something Choo opposed.

The judge-turned politician was brought into politics in the late 1990s by then-President Kim Dae-jung. She later went through some turbulence as she voted in favor of impeaching late President Roh Moo-hyun, after playing a key role in his campaign, an event she calls the biggest mistake of her career. She later reconciled with Roh's supporters. Watchers say Choo won because she had the full backing of the so-called pro Moon Jae-in faction, which took-on the Roh faction following his death in 2009.

Moon used to lead the party, ran for president in 2012 and is aiming to take a second shot at the presidency in 2017. Under Choo, the Moon Jae-in faction will gain a stronger foothold within the party and allow it to better prepare for the big test in 2017. The main task for the newly sworn in chairwoman Choo Mi-ae will be to win back power for the liberals at next year's presidential election by defeating the ruling conservative party. The United New Democratic Party (UNDP) resounding defeat in the December 2007 presidential election left the party struggling to get out from under the shadow of unpopular former President Roh Moo-hyun. The UNDP was in a "seriously difficult" situation. The defeat in December 2007 indicated that the UNDP needed a new, more pragmatic approach. The UNDP had experienced quite a change in its political stance in regard to U.S. and U.S.-North Korea relations, likely referring to Roh Moo-hyun's frequent anti-U.S. rhetoric. The general climate was that the party had to change, and that meant the UNDP could contribute more to the advancement of the U.S.-ROK relationship. Many people in the party thought the focus needed to change from the left-wing ideology of the past -- on social, international, and North Korea policy -- but, at the same time, the party had to stay center-left to distinguish itself from the Grand National Party.

In the new year, the United New Democratic Party (UNDP) was renamed the United Democratic Party's (UDP). The party held its national convention on 06 July 2008. At the convention, former chairman of the now defunct Uri Party, Chng Sye-kyun, was elected party chairman. The party also changed its name from the United Democratic Party (UDP) to the Democratic Party (DP). When the UDP was created, joining the United New Democratic Party with the old Democratic Party, leadership was shared by a representative from each party.

The new party chief, former Grand National Party (GNP) member Sohn Hak-kyu, seemed unable to articulate a vision for Korea that differed significantly from that of GNP rivals. The UDP was still likely to lose a significant number of seats (they had a near-majority with 141 out of 298) in April, but under Sohn's leadership the party was doing better than most pundits expected. Instead of trying to challenge former Hyundai Construction CEO and then President Lee Myung-bak on economic policy -- the number one issue for Korean voters -- the party instead focused on fighting battles over government restructuring and cabinet nominees, highlighting issues like inter-Korean relations that resonate with UDP ideology and that most Koreans support. The UDP was also working on its public image by purging senior lawmakers to emphasize cleaner politics and to distance the party from previous administrations. UDP's support ratings remained low, but they did better than many once thought, and Sohn succeeded in transforming himself into a party leader.

Neither UDP leader Sohn Hak-kyu nor party members have made any effort to distinguish their policies from that of their GNP counterparts. Although the "no policy" policy may have been born out of party dysfunction and disorganization following its candidate's resounding defeat in the December presidential election, the UDP has wisely stuck with it, seemingly recognizing the futility of trying to inspire voters on policy issues.

The UDP had been aided in no small way by Lee Myung-bak's overly ambitious policy agenda. Instead of concentrating on getting his government in place, Lee and his transition team spent most of the two months between the election and the inauguration fighting with the UDP over Lee's government restructuring plan, which would have cut the number of ministries from 18 to 13. Most controversial of the ministries slated for destruction were the Ministries of Unification (MOU) and of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF). Few expected Lee to be successful in folding MOU into the foreign ministry, but the UDP also successfully argued for the preservation of MOGEF. The timing of this debate was key as the UDP acquiesced to a compromise solution just as the public tired of the issue.

Lee Myung-bak's decision to select cabinet nominees based solely on their ability, apparently ignoring their chances for approval in a progressive-dominated National Assembly, gave the UDP a fight that they could sink their teeth into. Especially contentious was the selection of Nam Joo-hong to lead the MOU. Nam, an avowed hardliner on North Korea policy, concerned progressives both because of the impact he would have on inter-Korean relations and because of the message such an appointment would send to the North. The wealth of Lee's cabinet picks also raised eyebrows and eventually resulted in two nominees stepping down to avoid controversy. Having successfully cast itself as pro-engagement policy and anti-wealth, the UDP took its modest victory and approved the rest of Lee's cabinet picks.

While the GNP's nomination process for the 09 April 2008 National Assembly election was dominated by squabbling between President Lee Myung-bak and former GNP chair Park Geun-hye, the UDP's headlines featured the party's attempt to replace its old guard with new faces. In what media reports are calling "Park's Revolution," nominating committee chairman Park Jae-seung on March 13 announced that nine incumbent lawmakers (31 percent of its 29 lawmakers) in the staunchly liberal Jeolla provinces would not get the party's nomination for the elections. The nominating committee said that the Assemblymen were cut out because they have performed poorly, had been sentenced to jail terms, or had failed to gain support from residents in their respective constituencies. Conveniently, these representatives and others rejected nationwide are also those most strongly affiliated with the previous liberal administrations of Kim Dae-jung and the still unpopular Roh Moo-hyun. Left off the ticket were Kim Hong-eop, son of former President Kim Dae-jung; Park Jie-won, Kim's chief of staff; and Chung Dong-chae, former culture minister under Roh.

The UDP lost in the April 2008 elections. Their support rates hovered just under 20 percent. That said, the party -- and Sohn in particular -- played a better hand than most expected. Though Sohn may not have significantly increased public support for the party, he succeeded in eroding support for President Lee and the GNP through effective attacks on Lee missteps. Though the overall results underscored the GNP's supremacy in Seoul, Sohn had proven himself as a skilled party leader and increased the probability that the UDP would present the Lee Administration with a viable opposition in the next National Assembly.

The Minjoo Party was formed as the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (Saejeongchi Minju Yeonhap) on 26 March 2014 after the independent faction led by Ahn Cheol-soo, then in the process of forming a party called the New Political Vision Party, merged with the main opposition Democratic Party, led by Kim Han-gil. Ahn and Kim became joint leaders of the new party. The party performed poorly in by-elections that July, however, and both leaders stepped down, having served for three months. Leadership of the party was assumed by an emergency committee.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) elected Rep. Moon Jae-in as its new leader, setting sail on a long voyage to seize the power in the 2017 presidential election. Moon won the race for the party chairman with 45-point-three percent of the vote in the convention, defeating Rep. Park Ji-won, who secured just over 41 percent, and Rep. Lee In-young, who garnered nearly 13 percent. The party held a national convention on 15 February 2015 at Gymnastics Stadium in Olympic Park in Seoul.

Five lawmakers were elected as NPAD's new supreme council members, and the formation of the leadership put an end to the partys makeshift leadership system, which had steered the party since its humiliating loss in the 30 July 2014 by-elections.

Moon, a former lawyer, served as chief of staff for late former President Roh Moo-hyun. Moon was also the opposition's presidential candidate in 2012 when he lost to President Park Geun-hye, who was the ruling Saenuri Partys candidate. But he lost by a margin of 3.6 percent, garnering 48 percent of the total vote. It was the highest number of votes cast for a runner-up in South Koreas modern election history. Moon had a large base of supporters and is considered to have the strongest shot at winning the 2017 presidential election among candidates from the opposition parties. But the biggest hurdle he needed to overcome as the head of the party was the conflict among the different factions within it. The chronic problem for the party came to fore during the national convention. A significant portion of the party membership remained wary of the dominance of the pro-Roh faction, and it was questionable how Moon would embrace the non-main streams of the party, including former leaders, Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil.

Another major challenge for Moon would be to shore up the partys identity and give it wider public appeal. Many Koreans still viewed the party as a group of pro-North Korea, anti-business and elitist politicians. People had often chosen the Saenuri over the NPAD in recent elections even though they became seriously critical of the governments ability to deal with national affairs, including the tragic ferry sinking in April of 2014.

Moon showed that he has a will to change the old color of the party. The first thing he did as the newly-elected leader of the NPAD was to visit the Seoul National Cemetery to pay respects to two former conservative presidents Rhee Syng-man and Park Chung-hee. His popularity had risen since he declared an all-out war against President Park in his inaugural speech. But, it was unclear whether he will be able to live up to public expectations and reform the opposition party into a party for all.

Kim Chong-in viewed the proRoh Moo-hyun faction and what he considered the extremist wing of the party as responsible for the party's troubles, and pledged to diminish their influence. In the lead-up to the April 2016 parliamentary election he moved against key members of the pro-Roh faction in the nominations process, deselecting Lee Hae-chan, who had been Prime Minister under Roh and was now chairman of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation.

With the exclusion of the former prime minister, the opposition party was likely to witness a further divide between lawmakers loyal to former party Chairman Moon Jae-in and those in of support the partys current interim leader, Kim Jong-in. Lee left the party in response. Former party leader Moon Jae-in called it "one-sided" to exclude those identified as progressive or linked to democratization movements and civic groups from the April elections. Moon was considered to be a key presidential candidate and formed the largest faction within the party during the latest general elections.

The party also unveiled its decision not to nominate five-term lawmaker Lee Mi-kyung and Chyung Ho-joon, who is the son of former lawmaker Chyung Dai-chul. Chyung Dai-chul left the Minjoo Party of Korea to provide help to Peoples Party Co-Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo. The party unveiled a list of candidates for constituencies of key figures of the minor Peoples Party, marking a virtual collapse of a pan-opposition alliance proposed by the Minjoo's interim leader.

Though losing votes to the People's Party formed by Ahn, Chun and Kim Han-gil particularly in Honam the party emerged as the overall winner of the election, garnering a plurality of seats in the National Assembly with a margin of one seat over the Saenuri Party. The main opposition partys chief cited the governing blocs failed economic policies as a key factor for the Minjoo's win in the parliamentary elections. The Minjoo Party of Koreas Kim Chong-in said the partys wins in Seoul and nearby areas showed that voters had chosen to give the ruling Saenuri Party and the Park Geun-hye administration votes of no-confidence in their lackluster economic policies.

The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, which remained neutral about the THAAD deployment, voiced concern in August 2016 about the possibility of retaliation from China, which is deeply opposed to the missile defense system. The Minjoo Party said Beijing was moving to ban Korean dramas from broadcast in China and wants to prevent Korean celebrities from appearing on Chinese variety shows. The party also said Beijing is trying to delay approval for the creation of new TV programs created in collaborative projects between the two countries.



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