A society divided cannot stand

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A society divided cannot stand

In terms of political preferences, the generational gap has become more pronounced in Korea since the local elections were held in June 2010. Voters in their 20s and 30s are making a stand against the ruling Grand National Party and lending more of their support to the opposition camp, while people aged 50 and over are siding with the conservative GNP. The gap is less severe among those in their 40s, but polls suggest that the majority favor the opposition Democratic Party.

Such demographic differences are also evident in the polls for the Seoul mayoral by-election. In the latest survey by the JoongAng Ilbo, opposition flagbearer Park Won-soon’s approval rating by those in their 20s and 30s was nearly double that for ruling candidate Na Kyung-won. However, Na was twice as popular among the 50 to 60 age bracket and three times more popular than Park among those aged 60 and older. In other words, generational gaps seem to have replaced regional rivalries.

This phenomenon first popped up last year and cannot be attributed to the fervor over independent political newcomers or celebrity-like figures such as Ahn Cheol-soo. Younger people have been stymied by a harsh job market and economic hardship since the financial crisis in 2008. As those in their 20s and 30s struggle to finance their college education, find jobs or raise and support families, their agonies are translating into rage against the powers that be.

Younger people are also tech-savvy and more familiar with social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. They share and promulgate their anger and complaints through mobile and online networks. In contrast, voters over the age of 50 tend to be more concerned with issues such as national defense and social security as well as sustained economic growth.

The contest between different generations could evolve into broader social conflict in the aftermath of the elections, and some are capitalizing on the conflict to serve their own interests. Meanwhile, Cho Kuk, a liberal law professor at Seoul National University and one of Park’s mentors, is now taking flak for discounting the rights of older voters. This is reminiscent of Chung Dong-young, who ran against President Lee Myung-bak in the 2007 presidential elections. Chung stirred controversy by saying that elderly people were better off staying at home than heading to the voting booths.

Generations naturally differ in their views and opinions of world affairs, but this gap becomes a problem if it undermines social unity.

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