Downward momentum of Lee's Minjoo party

Downward momentum of Lee's Minjoo party
이재명 더불어민주당 대표가 8일 오후 서울 성북구 중국대사관저를 방문해 싱하이밍 주한중국대사와 인사를 나누고 있다. 2023.6.8/뉴스1

Momentum is a bitch. Once you start losing, it snowballs: morale goes down, and as the most competent are often the first to flock away, a vicious circle of manpower deterioration kicks off. It gets harder and harder to flip the situation over.

This is what’s happening in the Minjoo party these days, which has reached its nadir—I may prove too hasty with the word—with its head Lee Jae-myung’s meeting with Xing Haiming, Chinese ambassador to South Korea.

It seems that Lee wanted to form a united front against Fukushima water discharge with China, but, well, Mr Xing had another agenda.

Mr Xing has a good deal of track record, so it wasn’t too hard to predict what he would say at the meeting. Either the Minjoo leadership was too dumb to assess the possible outcome—this is, of course, a possibility—or they are blinded to it by other obsessions.

With no specific strategy and platform for the next election, Minjoo appears to have decided to go all in on another mad cow disease moment.

Not a terrible idea by itself—when you have nothing, at least be prepared to exploit other’s flops—but the problem is that there have been no such a moment so far in terms of intensity of issue.

While the polls show the public is evidently against Japan’s Fukushima water discharge plans, there has been no sign of massive protest as other cataclysmic incidents such as mad cow disease and President Park’s scandal.

Minjoo gathering signatures for its campaign against Fukushima water discharge

Between Japan discharging radiation-contaminated water, which is assessed to be processed to within safety margins, and China domineering over what South Korea should do with holding the trade deficit as hostage—which would spark a bigger outcry?

The silo in the minds of the Minjoo leadership seems sturdy. They are still living in the early 2000s during which they can tout themselves as young progressives standing against old, corrupted conservatives.

The truth is that they are now as old and corrupted as those whom they once stood against. Their understanding of the world around is distorted by conspiracy theory and partisanship. Lee’s short-lived pick for the party innovation committee chair still maintains the CIA intervened to get Yoon Suk-yeol elected as the President.

It is unlikely that Lee appoints a genuine reformer. After Park Ji-hyun, whom Lee picked for the interim party co-chair, turned against him, Lee has a much smaller pool of people for his designated hitter for the next election. That is why, I believe, Lee had to choose the 68 years-old former student activist to lead the innovation committee. He couldn’t take chances anymore as his political survival depends on it.

The only possible breakthrough I can think of is the pro-Moon faction taking over the leadership with Moon’s blessing. Despite his words at the end of his term, Moon clearly doesn’t want to be forgotten. There are still decent figures like Kim Boo-kyum who can lead the Moon pack.

Or, Minjoo can keep waiting for the apple to fall.