[Viewpoint] Voices of the few push majority asideThe fierce opposition of the Democratic and Democratic Labor parties to the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement makes us wonder for whom they are protesting. They claim that they oppose the FTA with the United States because it goes against the interests of the people and the country.
If they really think so, they should stop the ratification at all costs. But the government, the ruling party and most experts say the FTA is beneficial to the country. Furthermore, opinion polls show that the majority of the public support it. Then, who are the people who are supporting the opposition and what constitutes a national interest for them?
In fact, a clear manipulation of language is hidden in their actions. The people the opposition parties cite in their protests are not the entire nation, but some, and the national interest the opposition parties are defending is not the interests of the country but the interests of a specific group or class.
Of course, there will be some sectors that will suffer losses once the FTA takes effect. That was expected even during negotiations, and it is understandable that the people working in those industries would protest the FTA. And yet, the late former President Roh Moo-hyun decided to push forward the FTA during his term, despite his supporters’ opposition, because he believed it still benefited the interests of the entire nation.
But the DP and DLP continue to say that they oppose the FTA for the people and national interests by insisting that the few constitutes the entire population and that the interests of some are the interests of all.
Which brings us to another question. When a politician or a party expresses its opinion so strongly, it is for the sake of garnering votes. But why have they leaned to serve a few and not the majority? To win more votes, it seems only natural for politicians to select policies that are supported by the majority.
The DP and the DLP, of course, know this. In Korean politics, votes are not accurately represented by opinion polls because the voices of certain groups are over-represented. It means that those with louder voices win. For the Korea-U.S. FTA, the voices of few protesters were heard loudly, while the majority that supports it do not actively express their opinions.
While gains from the FTA would be spread among the people, the expected losses are limited to a small number of people and industries. When the gains are abstract while the losses concrete, it’s easy to imagine whose voices would be louder.
Furthermore, FTA supporters are called traitors online while protesters are called patriots. No wonder the silent majority remain tight-lipped.
The over-representation of the few was also demonstrated in the Seoul mayoral by-election. Although opinion polls predicted a neck-and-neck race, Park Won-soon won by a significant margin. Campaigning online and via smartphones proved to be effective in mobilizing the masses. Voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s familiar with Internet and communication devices had a larger representation than those in their 50s and 60s.
Some celebrities, writers and professors were also able to significantly influence public opinion even though no one assigned them political duties. No matter how many followers they have, the number would be smaller than the majority of the voters. But their enthusiastic supporters spread their remarks at the speed of light, and they had the power of larger-than-life representation.
Politicians are no longer making an issue out of over-representation. The voices of a few are amplified through the Internet and Twitter as if the Internet savvy are decisive decision makers. Newspapers and broadcasters are now following the messages on Twitter and on the Internet and are busy reporting on every story mentioned in the “I am Ggomsu” podcast. The silent majority increasingly loses a place to stand.
The principle of democratic decision making will inevitably be ruined when over-represented voices are left alone. The democratic process and legitimacy will be destroyed while the arguments of a loud minority are mistaken for the opinion of the majority and accepted as the public consensus.
Society can easily become undemocratic when the silent majority is ignored due to a loud minority. A society where pragmatic discussions and healthy debates disappear while unconfirmed, sensational arguments dominate cannot be called democratic.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jong-soo