[Viewpoint] At long last convergence?“Good days are gone, but ...” is the title of a column that Yonsei University Professor Kim Ho-ki contributed to the liberal Kyunghyang Shinmun on the outcome of the April 11 legislative election. With a clear sense of regret about how the election went, Kim wrote that the Democratic United Party must admit its defeat and redefine its position as a centrist liberal party. He also asked the DUP to stop bickering over their ideological line and present specific policies.
The younger generation, however, appeared to have no regrets about the election verdict, just complaints. “Shut up and vote? Shut up and politics?” is the title of a column contributed by Jo Yun-ho, a senior at the University of Seoul, to the Hankyoreh Shinmun, another protector of liberal values. “We saw no future, and the DUP only talked about what the ruling Saenuri Party did in the past. Once again, they gave another opportunity to the ruling party,” he wrote.
In March, a few weeks before the elections, a book entitled “Sorry to pass over this country” was published by journalists at the Korea Herald Business aged between 33 and 48. They defined themselves as the “F generation,” the F standing for forgotten, and described themselves as “having been forgotten but are now changing society.”
They portrayed their anger, self-reflections and hopes in the book. As the younger sibling of the so-called 386 generation and the older sibling of the 2040 generation, they claimed that the F generation was the main player in the April 27 by-election and the Oct. 26 Seoul mayoral by-election of last year.
But in April 11 legislative election, the alliance of voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s was broken. During last year’s by-elections, 35 percent of the voters in their 20s and 30s supported the Saenuri Party while 65 percent of them backed the DUP, and the exit poll of the legislative election also showed a similar support pattern for the age group. But the situation was different for voters in their 40s. In the latest elections, 45 percent of voters in their 40s backed the Saenuri Party, while 55 percent did the DUP, a sharp departure from the by-elections. Ham Yeong-hun, a key author, gave this interpretation:
“Distinct from voters in their 20s and 30s, voters in their 40s relied on the idea of passing judgment on the current administration and the ruling party after weighing the issues. They desired change and had hope in the opposition parties but were let down. They also had the feeling that there would be as many changes even if the ruling party won.
“The 40-something could build momentum if they consider a ruling party’s victory in December as a de facto change of government. However, if the ruling party succumbs to the greed of the conservatives, voters in their 40s will turn their backs against it just as they did in last year’s Seoul mayoral by-election.”
What do voters in their 20s think? Let’s take a look. “We bid farewell to the ‘Naggomsu’ (‘Petty-Minded Creep’ in their 30s and 40s), who still hurl curses at us, the very supporters of them!” This is the title of a statement posted by the University Students Human Alliance, the leader of the Occupy movement, on April 14.
The statement continues: “The 20-something voters are the key target of Naggomsu’s campaign to rally votes ... So when those voters cast ballots, the Naggomsu clan can change the world. That’s the disappointing part. Instead of begging us, make a sexier proposal ... We have been in pain since 1997. When Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun were the presidents, we experienced skyrocketing tuitions ... Korean politics have become an entertainment show and voters became the viewers ... We do not want to go back to the cruel decade of the liberal administrations ... We see no alternative forces we can vote for ...”
Such columns, books and statements don’t necessarily speak for the thoughts of each generation. But the trend of change is clearer as the ages get younger. Their arguments are not related to any particular spectrum of ideology.
The surprising resurrection of the conservatives is not the greatest product of the April 11 legislative elections, however the inevitable convergence of the conservatives and the liberals was. In that sense, the victor of the election was neither the Saenuri Party nor its leader Park Geun-hye, but the voters.
Anyone who wishes to win the next presidential election must understand what the 2040 generation thinks. To this end, the conservative and the liberal camps should converge. Taking polar opposite sides will no longer work. It is clear that the 2040 generation makes their choices based on future visions that involve jobs, education, housing and leisure. They are realistic and don’t buy into ludicrous pledges. They know better than anyone that their futures depend on elections. Whoever understands the true nature - and victor - of the April 11 legislative elections will eventually win the presidency.
* The author is the editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Su-gil