[VIEWPOINT]The youth will be heardJust like most voters, I am deeply interested in next week’s National Assembly elections. I had a conversation about the elections with my students, who are majoring in political science.
Student A pointed out that what sets this election apart the most is the participation of candidates from numerous political parties and diverse backgrounds in every constituency.
“According to the election theories we learned in class, the number of candidates tends to decrease in countries with a small constituency, such as Korea, and they often have a two-party system,” the student said. “Why do we have competition among the ruling party, opposition and independent candidates in most constituencies?”
I responded that the election is taking place at a crucial time as the country transitions into the second phase of democratization. The concept of democratization has been at the forefront of politics for the last two decades, but as that need fades and the so-called pro-democratization powers step down, the election of President Lee Myung-bak might be signaling the emergence of new political philosophies. With that in mind, the election could be considered the second half of the game, with a new set of players.
In the course of the power shift, the trend is that candidates are running from existing political parties as well as new parties and independents.
Student B said, “I was taught that the political parties should rightfully lead the election process, and that the quality of democracy depends on how well the political parties play that central role. However, as I watch the nomination and campaign process, I actually feel like Korea’s political parties are moving backward.”
I thought the student’s comments were reasonable. Many of the Grand National Party’s nomination choices have failed to impress the public and lots of turmoil surrounded the United Democratic Party’s nomination process. However, we need to observe the situation from a more macro context.
I have concluded that Korea’s political parties have lately turned into nomadic structures with a great deal of fluidity. It is a natural trend, because party chairmen are no longer imperial and public support counts more than the ideology or political identity of the party.
As we have seen in the case of the Grand National Party, distinctions between the inside and the outside of the party are becoming increasingly ambiguous.
While many who were excluded from the party’s nomination are running as independents, they will be elected with the support of the conservative voters. In the end, some of the elected lawmakers will return to the Grand National Party.
In other words, the variables such as winning the election and getting the public’s support have become more important than the stability of the party.
Then Student A said, “You just said political parties are changing into nomadic structures. I think such changes will have a great impact on the relationships between the president and the ruling party, as well as between the ruling and opposition parties.”
I agreed with the student’s point. Even if the Grand National Party wins a majority of the seats, as many pollsters predict, the relationship between the president and the ruling party will no longer be the perfectly harmonized collaboration of the past.
As we experienced during President Roh Moo-hyun’s term, the days of authoritarian party chairmen are over.
The lawmakers have increased freedom, so the relationship between the president and the ruling party can be said to have entered into a relationship of bargaining and endlessly negotiating compromises. This is the case with the president of the United States.
After all, how President Lee and the ruling party lawmakers adapt to the new environment is just as important as the number of seats the Grand National Party wins. The political leadership of President Lee and the vitality of the new administration depend on this.
Lastly, Student B wanted to talk about the participation of voters, especially the younger generation.
He said, “In fact, not many of my peers are likely to vote. However, the low turnout does not mean they have political indifference. It just means that many of us feel more comfortable freely exchanging opinions on Internet discussion forums rather than taking part in party politics or elections led by political elites.”
I admit that the young generation is more attracted to ways of political participation other than voting. Nevertheless, I believe the young generation will greatly influence the election. Depending on turnout and the choice of candidates by the younger generation, the winners will be decided in the Seoul metropolitan region. “Ultimately, I think that will affect the overall election results. At any rate, I hope many young voters turn up at the polls next week,” I said.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jaung Hoon