[Viewpoint] The empty nest partiesWe are displeased if others don’t understand our true intentions, and we feel upset and mistreated when the misunderstanding continues. The discord is especially common between parents and children. The outcome of the Seoul mayoral by-election is a similar case, as the generational gap is highlighted clearly.
The parents’ generation always feels uneasy about the children’s generation.
“Will they stay on the right track? Will they be able to protect what their parents have accomplished?” the older generational asks.
However, the children do not understand their parents and consider themselves to be good sons and daughters by arranging overseas trips for their parents on election day. The older generation feels upset and finds their children to be ungrateful.
The older generation does not have high expectation. They only hope that the country will become a better place for the next generation. But the children treat their parents as if they are outdated and backward.
A few days before the by-election, liberals held a seminar denouncing the May 16 Coup to mark the event’s 50th anniversary. I arrived at the conference room to find that nearly all of the attendees were seniors.
Similar meetings in the conservative faction were also attended mostly by seniors, so I thought there would be no future for the conservatives. However, the conferences arranged by the liberal group did not attract young people either. Father Ham Se-ung, a progressive leader, lamented that only seniors came to these kinds of meetings.
Both leftist and rightist groups saw little participation from the youth. Maybe young Koreans are not interested in ideological issues. The topic of the seminar was a critical discussion of Yushin dictatorial rule. How does Yushin rule appeal to young Koreans today? The discussions among conservative groups often involve praise for President Park Chung Hee. Maybe it sounds like stories from the olden days to the young generation. The older generation, meanwhile, feels frustrated by their indifference, but it may be an inevitable generational divide.
To the older generation, the ideologies of the left and the right are significant. As long as North Korea stands in confrontation, they cannot ignore ideologies. It was the lesson of history and could be a trauma from the war.
However, the young generation finds it irrelevant. They find realistic concerns far more urgent than ideological issues. They want to address unemployment, child care and early retirement. They believe that politics have to bring solutions. The yardsticks used by the left and the right cannot meet the demands of the young generation.
Nevertheless, political parties cannot be free from ideology. In any democratic country, most parties identify themselves as either progressive or conservative. The point is whether the ideology is conceptual or realistic. Regrettably, Korean political parties are trying to tackle realistic issues with conceptual eyes. That’s why policy debates often do not work.
The handling of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement in the National Assembly illustrates the discrepancy. It is a matter of economic policy, but the opposition party looks at it with anti-American eyes and uses the yardstick of ideology. The ruling party is reluctant to push for it fears being criticized as pro-American.
When ideology prevails, extreme leftists and extreme rightists become rampant. The Democratic Party is being swayed by the Democratic Labor Party. Politicians despise one another as they look at the illusion conjured up by the extremists rather than seeing the substance of the matter.
The reality has become complicated. It is hard to draw a line with a yardstick of dictatorship versus anti-dictatorship or progressive versus conservative. The gap between classes grows, regions have different preferences and generations have different demands. Policy decisions are complicated as well. While we defend democracy, we need to consider efficiency, and while pursuing economic growth, we need to keep balance in mind.
We are in need of a political party that can contain all of these. When political parties cannot adapt to the changed climate, young voters are disappointed. Maybe they are attracted to the disposable, paper clothes because they cannot find something that fits perfectly. All organizations need members of the next generation to continue to exist, but Korean political parties have become empty nests, with all the younglings having left. And a party that is yet to be formed by a popular figure has higher support than existing political parties.
Unless political parties transform themselves, they will receive shocks from outside. New parties will be formed and get into the competition. The Democratic Party has already been swept up by the wave. The Grand National Party will find itself in a similar situation soon. The ruling party needs to be soft on the surface yet be solid as steel in the core in order to survive.
The environment changes all the time. Only the person who has a firm conviction can be free from changes. The ruling party should be able to embrace any and all matters with an exception of a pro-Pyongyang agenda. It should display decisiveness by risking its life in defending the core while being flexible to changes.
Rather than flattering the youth, the party should embrace their pains. When it proves its beliefs with actions, trust will be restored gradually.
*The writer is senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Moon Chang-keuk