[Viewpoint] Get off the bus!

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[Viewpoint] Get off the bus!

When the New Korean Democratic Party announced its inauguration on Nov. 27, 1980, it proclaimed itself “the only opposition party with a just and critical voice.” The Democratic Justice Party, in another party inauguration convention a month later, dubbed itself the “new ruling political force.”

But the general election that would decide which party would rule and which would be in opposition took place in March 1981.

Without waiting for any judgment from voters, political parties were already defining their identities as being rulers or forever in opposition. It shows how both insecure and arrogant our politicians are.

Korean political parties are created from the top down. They are unlike their Western counterparts, which are natural by-products of social-structural forces and demands.

As a result, Korea’s parties fail to represent their constituents properly. The interests they seek also differ widely from the real interests of various social groups.

Politicians follow the votes like migratory birds and are always busy fighting for their positions in the political world. People once revered in their respective professional fields transform into something else as they set foot in the political field, they blend in, they turn vulgar.

One more thing: Non-mainstream political groups and individuals run outside the political arena. Political energy that is squeezed out of the political system by a malfunction or other anomalies therein usually drifts toward the fringes. It brews underground and shoots up when the political ground suddenly weakens in the form of street protests and rallies.

The latest example, and it’s a typical one, is the large-scale protests that have been playing out at the Hanjin Heavy Industrial and Construction shipyard in Busan, South Gyeongsang.

Umbrella labor groups and labor and political activists of various stripes have organized three eventful demonstrations, with so-called “Hope Buses,” to show solidarity with a radical activist protesting the shipbuilder’s laying workers off. She has sat on top of a 35-meter tower crane for nearly seven months.

The protesters appear to firmly believe in the absolute justice and goodness of their rallies. Those who are against the protest are dismissed as conformists or as being overly pro-government.

However, someone should represent the voices of the residents and shopkeepers in the vicinity of the protests, whose lives have been badly disrupted. In that sense, it is not a conflict between private interests and public interests but a conflict between private interests. One side does not have moral supremacy over the other.

The big problem is that a number of opposition politicians have piled onto the Hope Buses. In doing so, they have undermined their roles as representative legislators because political parties exist to mediate and work out social strife within a political framework.

What have the protesting politicians done in the legislature to help the labor forces? Anyone can cry out slogans about protecting part-time workers or the injustice of mass layoffs. Politicians should present realistic and workable action plans within the political system to solve problems. When politicians rush to the streets to make a point, they are diminishing their role and that of politics in general.

Rallies appeal to sentimentality and morality in order to fan the excitement of the moment. Protesters usually regard themselves as progressive, intellectual and morally just. But excess self-indulgence gets in the way of practical dialogue and compromise. That leads to violent militance. Radical actions have often proved effective in getting points across in Korean politics.

Issues of complicated interests and social and economic elements, however, cannot be worked out on the streets and in demonstrations. Such visceral means should be reserved to overthrow authoritarian regimes. Political issues that need balance must be addressed on political grounds, not on the pavement.

Sympathizing with street protesters undermines the representative democracy system. It is pure naivete and self-delusion if one believes conflicts can be resolved through such means in today’s society.

The sympathy rally did put a spotlight on the issue. It should stop at that. Conflicts of interest should be worked out in our democratic system. Politicians shouting at rallies is so 1980s.

*The writer is social news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

By Nam Yoon-ho
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